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The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh. 

About the Work

Title : The Starry Night 
Artist : Vincent van Gogh, (Dutch, 1853–1890)
Year : 1889
Medium : Oil on canvas
Dimensions :  29 x 36 1/4″ (73.7 x 92.1 cm)
Location : Museum of Modern Art, New York

The Starry Night (1889)
Vincent van Gogh
Image courest : MoMA

The Story of the Starry Night

The Starry Night was painted during Van Gogh’s stay at the asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where he had admitted himself following fits of paranoia and depression. The view is from his room, though he omitted the bars that would have obstructed his view.

Art historians often debate on whether the village presented in The Starry Night is from one of his previous charcoal sketches of the French town or it represents his homeland, the Netherlands and a longing. It is rumoured that he was obsessed with capturing the lights in the night sky, after he reached Arles in 1888. His Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum is witness to this statement.

“This morning I saw the country from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big.”

Vincent van Gogh

The eye is captivated by the bold brush strokes that swirl enigmatically, investing the painting with dynamism. Every stroke of colour that rolls with the clouds, and around the stars and moon, seems to frame them. While the cypress bends its branches, the spire stands erect. The town is straight up and down, in contrast to the undulating hills.

Other Details

“Looking at the stars always makes me dream. Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star.”

Vincent van Gogh

Lillie Bliss the daughter of a textile merchant, one of the foremost collectors of modern art in the early 20th century, shared her space with Mary Quinn Sullivan and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. Investing her wealth in art she helped found Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art, where the Starry Night now resides, after her death. It was previously owned by Van Gogh’s sister in law, who is credited to have contributed to his popularity after his death.

To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit Artwork in Focus.

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