Starry Night (1889)

The Starry Night is the title given to one of the best-known and most reproduced paintings by Vincent van Gogh. Since 1941 it has been in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

During the autumn of 1888, while Van Gogh was staying in Arles, Vincent made his first painting of a starry night: Starry Night over the Rhone. Almost a year later, in mid-June 1889, he announced “a new study of a starry sky”: Starry night. Later, he incorporated a pen drawing in a set of a dozen based on recent paintings. In mid-September 1889, following a heavy crisis that lasted from mid-July to the last days of August, he thought to include this “Study of the Night” in the next batch of works to be sent to his brother Theo in Paris.

This composition compiles various elements to be seen in the neighborhood in Saint-Rémy with the intermediary hills, which seem to be derived from a different part of the surroundings, south of the asylum. A tree — the top of a cypress, on the left — was added into the north to the south in his painting Starry Night Over the Rhone.

Van Gogh was not so happy with this painting, considering it a study, not a definitive painting. In a letter to Theo from Saint-Rémy, he wrote: “The first four canvases are studies without the effect of a whole that the others have… The olives with white clouds and background of mountains, also the moonrise and the night effect, these are exaggerations from the point of view of the arrangement, their lines are warped as those of old wood”.

Later in this letter, Vincent referred once more to the painting: “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! Gauguin is sometimes like a genius when he explains this, but as for the genius Gauguin has, he is very timid about showing it, and it is touching the way he likes to say something really useful to the young. How strange he is all the same.”

Current Location: Museum of Modern Art, New-York