Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh and his “Starry Night”
A world-famous Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh created various wonderful paintings that are extremely precious and well-known today. That is why it is difficult to believe that he was a poor, unknown painter, and his contemporaries didn’t really like his works. Only after Van Gogh’s death did his paintings get the recognition and appreciation by artists and specialists that they deserve. He has been called one of the best painters of all the times and a true genuine. In 1889, Van Gogh painted The Starry Night, oil on canvas, which is considered his most famous painting and one of the most significant art masterpieces of the 19th century.
Painting has always been the reflection of a painter’s vision, his own style and skills; all these factors were influenced by the epoch, events, country’s traditions and an environment in which an artist created his masterpieces. Vincent Van Gogh’s life was not long: he committed suicide at the age of 47, though he managed to depict truly unforgettable images in his paintings. He left school at the age of fifteen, to pursue his dream of being an artist. In 1869, he got a position at the art dealers, Goupil and Co. in The Hague, through his uncle, and worked with them until he was dismissed from the London office in 1873. He worked as a schoolmaster in England (1876), before training for the ministry at Amsterdam University (1877). After he failed to get a post in the Church, he went to live as an independent missionary among the Borinage miners. He then traveled to Paris (1886) and lived with his brother, Theo. (Artchive, 1). Van Gogh received some training from his cousin, but he was mostly a self-taught artist.
For about ten years Van Gogh created numerous paintings, however he sold only one picture during his lifetime. So, it’s no wonder that he suffered a lot of hardships, including psychological problems. As a result, he voluntarily went into to a mental hospital, where he lived almost until his death in and where he created one of his best works – The Starry Night. There was no patron for this work of art, however he did paint a similar one for Emile Bernard, in 1888. Even though Van Gogh only worked as an artist for 10 years, he managed to paint more than 600 paintings and 1000 drawings (Crispino, 2001). He was a strange person, with unusual behaviour and loneliness, but he was a great artist, a person who could love and reveal this love for people in his paintings. He broke off from the traditional romanticism and religious ideas’, and turned to the depiction of various natural elements in an unusual manner.
Van Gogh scarcely thought of his Starry Night as an exceptional painting, but critics and artists consider it to be one of his most significant works. He later wrote, ‘exaggerations in terms of composition’ with lines ‘warped as in old woodcuts’. Van Gogh was referring to the somewhat primitive, coarse illustrations in the household edition of the works of Dickens rather than to the carefully executed wood engravings in contemporary magazines (Artchive 2). The Starry Night has been the basis for poems, fiction and even for the famous song “Starry, Starry Night” by Don McLean. In one part, the song describes it as: “Colors changing hue, morning field of amber grain, Weathered faces lined in pain, Are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand”. In fact, astronomers evaluated this picture and found out that it greatly resembled the real sky, in addition, they were able to define that The Starry Night was created in the town Auvers-sur-Oise (France). They were also able to reveal the exact date when Van Gogh painted it – June 16, 1889, after 7 p.m. For modern specialists it is still a mystery how Van Gogh was able to show whirling cosmic energy in the night sky so many years ago, when nothing was really known about this energy. He was able to uncover what was hidden deep in the universe, which is one reason why this picture is so treasured.
The Starry Night was created in a complex period of Van Gogh’s life, and he wrote very little about it to his brother. However, it is known that he long dreamt of creating such a picture, depicting a bright night with a whirling sky and beautiful stars. During the painting, the actions and behaviour of Van Gogh were severe and eccentric, therefore, the emotional power of this picture is greater than his other paintings (Kendall, 1998). The Starry Night in particular was an attempt by Van Gogh to create a masterpiece on a par with the very stylized work of Gauguin and Bernard. He was more determined than ever to prove himself the equal of his fellow artists, and he did. The picture has caused many debates over the years. Some specialists point at the existence of eleven stars in the picture, although this point is usually contradicted by others, it possesses some truth. It is possible that while creating The Starry Night, Van Gogh applied the story of Joseph (Old Testament), this can be seen after a careful observation of some parts of the composition (Kendall, 1998). Whatever the history of painting, it remains one of the best art works of Vincent Van Gogh. He captured the unique moments – the moments of beauty that combines a profound meaning and the artist’s vision of everything that occurred around him.
So, what are the peculiarities of Vincent Van Gogh’s painting that makes it different and outstanding from his other works? The first particular feature is the style of the painting – The Starry Night is the work of an artist’s imagination and that is why, contours of houses and stars are vague rather than clear. It is not just the depiction of the village at night. The shining sky full of sparkling stars looks so energetic and lively in comparison with a calm and lifeless village. The stars, the sky and the cypress (that is represented in the foreground) symbolize the transition from life to death, death being like a trip to the stars. It is, of course, a real night, but with imaginative elements – Van Gogh embodied his dreams, his understanding of life and death. Vincent Van Gogh thought that the imaginative features added special charm and mystery to his painting – in this way he was going to prove to himself that he was worth being called an artist. The mixture of graphic style and religious implications, it raises unusual associations and powerful emotions.
Another peculiar and important fact is that this picture was created from memory, in the asylum at Saint-Remy. Vincent preferred to paint his canvases in the fresh air (Pickvance, 1986). This fact can explain why the painting is penetrated with so much powerful emotional strength, unlike many other canvases of Van Gogh. The stars resemble fireworks, and against a background of the moving night, they seem alive, they seem to be vulnerable and passionate, making them extremely eye-catching. Such unique painting creates a beauty that is impossible to convey through concrete description, of a traditional portrayal of nature.
In the foreground of The Starry Night Van Gogh creates a village and hills that are done in the same colors as the sky that are violent, spiralling and revolving. The whole painting is characterised by the use of such whirling brushstrokes, which is why The Starry Night is so captivating. The painterly brush work contributes to the complexity of the composition. As a result, the whirling sky looks so powerful that the village and other elements of the painting appear to be less vivid, implying that nature controls everything.The Starry Night proves that brushstrokes and created elements hand in hand, and they should be regarded as an essential tool in handling the attitude of Vincent Van Gogh towards the environment. Using different technical and compositional methods, Van Gogh managed to reveal his attitude towards the universe. The Starry Night is a combination of bright and dark colors, this is done specifically by Van Gogh to point at black/dark sides of life; these colors are full of intensity and unusual richness (Jordan & Greenberg, 2001). In this painting Van Gogh managed to visually reflect the changes of good and bad, it is done so truthfully that everyone can feel them. The painter creates an unusual setting that is seen through small, almost invisible details. This painting is full of some deep emotions, contributing to the complexity of Van Gogh’s vision and thoughts. The severe lights of some parts are contrasted with tender, soft colours of the night, of the stars, and especially of the sky. In fact, some elements of The Starry Night are pictured in the most extreme forms, forms that do not exist in nature, but this reflects one’s perception of the environment. This picture unites both beauty and reality, and yet it also covers some mysterious elements and visions.
As shown in this essay, The Starry Night by Van Gogh really is one of the greatest masterpieces of all times. At the least, it is one of the most intriguing paintings I have ever seen. The history of its creation, its unique features and deep emotions is why this painting is so valuable today. Through magnificent artistic elements Van Gogh uncovers the deepest mechanisms of the environment; they allow not to speak openly, but instead to lift the veil of secrecy towards important natural beauties that people do not always see. In general, the whole composition reveals the unity of all components. Every element is closely connected with another, and if one was taken away, the unity of the picture would be destroyed.
Crispino, E. Vincent van Gogh. Peter Bedrick Books, 2001.
Jordan, S. & Greenberg, J. Vincent Van Gogh. Delacorte Books, August 14, 2001.
Kendall, R. Van Gogh’s Van Goghs. Harry N. Abrams, October 1, 1998.
Pickvance, R. Van Gogh in Saint Remy and Auvers. Metropolitan Museum of Art. October 1986.
The Artchive. http://www.artchive.com/artchive/V/van_gogh/starry_night_text.jpg.html