what is the theme of the starry night by vincent van gough
Observation and Imagination in The Starry Night (1889)
1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/4″ (73.7 x 92.1 cm)
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.
Art historian Sven Loevgren expands on Schapiro’s approach, again calling The Starry Night a “visionary painting” which “was conceived in a state of great agitation.”  He writes of the “hallucinatory character of the painting and its violently expressive form,” although he takes pains to note that the painting was not executed during one of Van Gogh’s incapacitating breakdowns.  Loevgren compares Van Gogh’s “religiously inclined longing for the beyond” to the poetry of Walt Whitman.  He calls The Starry Night “an infinitely expressive picture which symbolizes the final absorption of the artist by the cosmos” and which “gives a never-to-be-forgotten sensation of standing on the threshold of eternity.”  Loevgren praises Schapiro’s “eloquent interpretation” of the painting as an apocalyptic vision  and advances his own symbolist theory with reference to the eleven stars in one of Joseph’s dreams in the Old Testament book of Genesis.  Loevgren asserts that the pictorial elements of The Starry Night “are visualized in purely symbolic terms” and notes that “the cypress is the tree of death in the Mediterranean countries.” 
Boime asserts that while Van Gogh never mentioned astronomer Camille Flammarion in his letters,  he believes that Van Gogh must have been aware of Flammarion’s popular illustrated publications, which included drawings of spiral nebulae (as galaxies were then called) as seen and photographed through telescopes. Boime interprets the swirling figure in the central portion of the sky in The Starry Night to represent either a spiral galaxy or a comet, photographs of which had also been published in popular media.  He asserts that the only non-realistic elements of the painting are the village and the swirls in the sky. These swirls represent Van Gogh’s understanding of the cosmos as a living, dynamic place. 
Van Gogh´s passion for nighttime is evident in the Starry Night painting, where the powerful sky sits above the quiet town. It seems that van Gogh is contrasting life and death with luminous stars and a gloomy, peaceful village. The main light sources are the bright stars and crescent moon.
In Starry Night contoured forms are a means of expression and they are used to convey emotion. Many feel that van Gogh´s turbulent quest to overcome his illness is reflected in the dimness of the night sky. The village is painted with dark colors but the brightly lit windows create a sense of comfort. The village is peaceful in comparison to the dramatic night sky and the silence of the night can almost be felt in Starry Night. The steeple dominates the village and symbolizes unity in the town. In terms of composition, the church steeple gives an impression of size and isolation.
Later on in the letter van Gogh refers to Starry Night once again;
“In all this batch I think nothing at all good save the field of wheat, the mountain, the orchard, the olives with the blue hills and the portrait and the entrance to the Quarry, and the rest says nothing to me, because it lacks individual intention and feeling in the lines. Where these lines are close and deliberate it begins to be a picture, even if it is exaggerated. That is a little what Bernard and Gauguin feel, they do not ask the correct shape of a tree at all, but they insist absolutely that one can say if the shape is round or square – and my word, they are right, exasperated as they are by certain people’s photographic and empty perfection. Certainly they will not ask the correct tone of the mountains, but they will say: In the Name of God, the mountains were blue, were they? Then chuck on some blue and don’t go telling me that it was a blue rather like this or that, it was blue, wasn’t it? Good – make them blue and it’s enough!”
Starry Night is considered van Gogh´s greatest artistic achievement and it is one of the most famous and reproduced images in the art world. Starry Night is still in great demand from consumers and is recognized all around the world.