comments on a starry night vincent van gogh
There had been hills in Arles too, of course. But they entered his panoramic scenes as idyllic touches. His landscapes included the harvest, passing trains, isolated farmsteads and distant towns; and the hills were simply one more detail. In Arles, van Gogh’s dream had been of the harmony of things and of the spatial dimensions in which that harmony could be felt. None of that remained. The hills rose up steep and abruptly now, menacing, threatening to drag the lonesome soul down into vertiginous depths.
Interpretations of this painting are legion. Some claim it is a perfectly realistic account of the position of the stars in June 1889. This, needless to say, is perfectly possible. But the twisting, spiralling lines have nothing to do with the Northern Lights or the Milky Way or some spiral nebula or other. Others say that van Gogh was expressing a personal Gethsemane; they back this up by referring to the discussion of Christ on the Mount of Olives that he was currently engaged in, in his correspondence with Gauguin and Bernard. This too may be so; it is possible that premonitions of sufferings to come are articulated in the picture. But Biblical allegory is present throughout van Gogh’s oeuvre, and he had no need of a special motif, least of all a starry sky, with all its associations of Arles and Utopian visions. Rather, van Gogh was trying to summarize; and his resume juxtaposed natural, scientific, philosophical and personal elements. Starry Night is an attempt to express a state of shock, and the cypresses, olive trees and mountains had acted as van Gogh’s catalyst. More intensely, perhaps, than ever before, van Gogh was interested in the material actuality of his motifs as much as in their symbolic dimensions.
Some people have made stylistic comparisons to Vincent’s other well known and equally turbulent work Wheatfield with Crows. Does the tumultuous style of these works reflect a tortured mind? Or is there something more we can read within the whorls Vincent’s raging night sky? This is what makes Starry Night not only Vincent’s most famous work, but also one of its most frequently interpreted in terms of its meaning and importance.
‘Look, I have had another dream’ he said, ‘I thought I saw the sun, the moon and eleven stars, bowing to me.’
Starry Night is one of the most recognized pieces of art in the world. It is absolutely everywhere, too. It can be seen on coffee, mugs, t-shirts, towels, magnets, etc. Honestly, it sometimes feels as if the painting’s fame has exceeded that of its creator. It is a magnificent piece of art. That Starry Night resonates with so many people is a testament to how its beauty is timeless and universal.
Vincent van Gogh painted Starry Night in 1889 during his stay at the asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Van Gogh lived well in the hospital; he was allowed more freedoms than any of the other patients. If attended, he could leave the hospital grounds; he was allowed to paint, read, and withdraw into his own room. He was even given a studio. While he suffered from the occasional relapse into paranoia and fits – officially he had been diagnosed with epileptic fits – it seemed his mental health was recovering.
Unfortunately, he relapsed. He began to suffer hallucination and have thoughts of suicide as he plunged into depression. Accordingly, there was a tonal shift in his work. He returned to incorporating the darker colors from the beginning of his career and Starry Night is a wonderful example of that shift. Blue dominates the painting, blending hills into the sky. The little village lays at the base in the painting in browns, greys, and blues. Even though each building is clearly outlined in black, the yellow and white of the stars and the moon stand out against the sky, drawing the eyes to the sky. They are the big attention grabber of the painting.
“Either this man will eventually go mad, or he will overtake us all” – Camille Pissarro
So, let us look at the composition of the painting to see how Van Gogh creates this sense of awe. We can see a church spire dominating a small village, and a cypress tree in the forefront of the painting. This gives the painting a great sense of depth. We can also see the centre point of the two ‘waves’ in the sky is perfectly aligned with the drop point between the hills. The village is focused around the church – a sign of good Christian virtues. We should also note the way each house is painted – they are bordered in black just like a stained glass window, giving them a far stronger structure. Likewise, the trees are thick and abundant. On the other hand, the sky is vibrant, fluid almost, and the stars disperse their light in concentrated waves. The painting is therefore a very intended demonstration of forces in opposition; the solidity of the earth against the sublime intensity of the fluid sky. What links these worlds is a cypress tree, thick and black like asphalt but also bright like a flame. The apparent folly of ‘The Starry Night’ is therefore intended.
Vincent van Gogh
Van Gogh paints the rich colors of the night and this corresponds with the true character of this Starry Night, whereby colors are used to suggest emotion.