the starry night painting meaning
“I feel a tremendous need for religion, so I go outside at night to paint the stars”.
At the time when Van Gogh painted The Starry Night he was in the asylum in Saint-Rémy.
It was 1889 and he was admitted there after a nervous breakdown, but there he could paint en plein air, and there he painted one of his masterpieces.
In those days Van Gogh wrote to his brother:
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.
The village has been variously identified as either a recollection of Van Gogh’s Dutch homeland,   or based on a sketch he made of the town of Saint-Rémy.   In either case, it is an imaginary component of the picture, not visible from the window of the asylum bedroom.
In the aftermath of the 23 December 1888 breakdown that resulted in the self-mutilation of his left ear,   Van Gogh voluntarily admitted himself to the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole lunatic asylum on 8 May 1889.   Housed in a former monastery, Saint-Paul-de-Mausole catered to the wealthy and was less than half full when Van Gogh arrived,  allowing him to occupy not only a second-story bedroom but also a ground-floor room for use as a painting studio. 
Some people have speculated about the eleven stars in the painting. While it’s true that Vincent didn’t have the same religious fervour in 1889, when he painted the work, as he did in his earlier years, there is a possibility that the story of Joseph in the Old Testament may have had an influence on the composition of the work.
New York: The Museum of Modern Art
Beneath this expressive sky sits a hushed village of humble houses surrounding a church, whose steeple rises sharply above the undulating blue-black mountains in the background. A cypress tree sits at the foreground of this night scene. Flame-like, it reaches almost to the top edge of the canvas, serving as a visual link between land and sky. Considered symbolically, the cypress could be seen as a bridge between life, as represented by the earth, and death, as represented by the sky, commonly associated with heaven. Cypresses were also regarded as trees of the graveyard and mourning. вЂњBut the sight of the stars always makes me dream,вЂќ van Gogh once wrote. вЂњWhy, I say to myself, should the spots of light in the firmament be less accessible to us than the black spots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to go to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to go to a star.вЂќ 4
1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/4″ (73.7 x 92.1 cm)