Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Art Analysis- Van Gogh's Starry Night


Arguably one of the most recognizable artworks in the world is Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh was a Dutch painter with flaming red hair. He only sold one painting while he was living. Yes, he did cut off part of his ear once, but it wasn't very much. And no, it wasn't his love for a prostitute that made him do it, it was an argument with his friend Paul Gaugin that led to his rage and self-mutilation. But, that's aside the point.

Starry Night was painted in 1889 while Van Gogh was in Saint Remy of Province, a psychiatric hospital. He had a breakdown after his ear fiasco and wound up at Saint Remy. The view in Starry Night is actually the view outside of the window in his hospital room. To paint it (since they didn't have lightbulbs back then and, hello!, it's called starry night), he hung candles off of his hat and off of the canvas so he could see what he was doing.

Starry Night is 28.7" by 36.22". It took him only 3 nights to complete it. This is one of the stereotypical paintings in the post-impressionist style. Van Gogh never mixed paint, and often applied paint right onto the canvas, straight from the tube. His thick style of painting is called "impasto". He used to eat his paint, too, which (back then) contained lead, and might've enhanced his mental state.

a detail of the impasto application of paint on Starry Night

There are many interpretations of Starry Night. When I took art history classes, we learned that the cypress tree (on the left side) meant that it was an allegory for death. The cypress tree actually didn't exist in that landscape, Van Gogh added it in himself. On another note, you might have noticed that the stars are brighter than the artificial light made by humans inside of the buildings. This was Van Gogh's subtle attempt at reminding us that we are only temporary.

Another story is that the cypress tress isn't a cypress tree at all: it's smoke. When Van Gogh was on his way home to paint Starry Night, some kids threw rocks at him and made him mad. He started making the town look like it was on fire and then changed his mind. The cypress tree, in this theory, represents his anger towards those hooligans.

Yet another theory on the paintings is that Starry Night is just an example of a man in psychological shambles. Some believe that the reason everything looks so unrealistic is because Van Gogh struggled with anxiety and depression and the swirling shapes represent the confusion emanated from within himself.


Starry Night isn't the only painting Van Gogh did of the night sky. A lesser famous painting by Vincent is Starry Night Over the Rhone, which shares very similar characteristics. It was painted in 1888, a year before the famous Starry Night. The main difference between Starry Night Over the Rhone (1888) and Starry Night (1889) is that the one painted in 1889 shows people.

You can learn more about Vincent Van Gogh at the Van Gogh Museum, the Van Gogh Gallery, or the Van Gogh Web Museum.

1 comment:

  1. You know I actually heard in humanities class that a girl committed suicide by jumping out of her window there while van gogh was painting this and that the cypress might actually be the hair of the woman because he saw her jump.

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