History of The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

History of The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night remains to be one of the most recognizable artworks in history alongside Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, and Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych. It’s so famous and recognizable to the point that it’s also one of the most appropriated artworks in history. It’s beauty inspires artists up to this day and the air of mystery it leaves behind compels artists to try and imitate the artwork– it’s style, impasto technique, brushwork, and color palette. A lot of notebooks, journals, shirts, phone cases have this design. While many people recognize this artwork, do they really know the history of the Starry Night and who Vincent van Gogh is? If not, let’s learn more about art history by discussing the history of The Starry Night in this article. So, if you wanna learn something new, keep on reading to know more!

Perhaps you have heard Don McLean’s song entitled Vincent that starts with the lines, “Starry, starry night, paint your palette blue and gray, look out on a summer's day, with eyes that know the darkness in my soul…”  This song is inspired by no other than Van Gogh and his paintings, particularly the Starry Night. This painting has created a cultural impact and has become one of the symbols of popular art and culture. When you hear the word starry night, the image that will automatically pop in your head is blue, yellow, and gray color schemes, wind flowing and a big cypress tree over the hills. A church, village of houses, the well-lit moon, and the bright stars; there is truly something emotional about the painting because it tells about Van Gogh’s pain and afflictions hidden through a beautiful artwork. His suffering captivated millions of people and his works kept in a museum will be cherished forever in order for more generations to see and get captivated by his genius. 

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Who is Vincent Van Gogh?

Other than being the painter of some of the most recognizable artworks in the world such as Sunflowers and The Starry Night, we may know Van Gogh as a person who battled his sanity and depression, and of course, the infamous ear-cutting due to his immense breakdown. Before we get further into details about the history of the starry night, it will be worth knowing about the background of the painter. Who is Vincent Van Gogh? Let’s find out in this section.

Vincent Willem Van Gogh was a Dutch painter born on March 30, 1853 in Zundert, Netherlands. He was the eldest son among the six children of Theodorus van Gogh, a protestant pastor and Anna Carbentus van Gogh, an amateur artist. During his early life, he was known to be a quiet, self-contained child who developed a keen interest for the arts as he spent his free time wandering around nature in the countryside. At the young age of 16, he became an apprentice as a part of the group called The Hague, which is a group of art dealers. 

Often regarded as the greatest after Rembrandt van Rijn, and one of the most important Post-Impressionists in art history, his iconic works recognizable by the vibrant colors, forceful brushwork, and curved forms had a significant effect on the modern art movement of Expressionism. He was not a popular artist during his lifetime, in fact, people weren't very keen with his art and he only sold one painting in his lifetime prior to his death for a mere few francs.  Van Gogh's art soared in popularity after his death, particularly in the late twentieth century, when it sold for record-breaking prices at auctions throughout the world and was featured in huge international exhibits. Van Gogh has been mythologized in public imagination as the ideal suffering artist, thanks in part to his numerous published correspondence to his brother, friends, and fellow artists like Paul Gauguin.

His work had a significant impact on the development of many contemporary paintings, particularly the works of the Fauvism artists, Chaim Soutine, and the German Expressionists. He created more than 850 oil paintings and 1,300 sketches, drawings, etc. on paper during his lifetime despite the challenges he faced. He was always very penniless, and even though his artistic career was short lived as it only spanned for a decade, he was supported by his brother Theo, whose kindness was beyond compare and he believed in him completely,  even though no one else did. His deteriorating mental health led to his untimely death; he shot himself out of loneliness, isolation, and despair at the age of 37. His legacy lives on, and his works will always be loved and appreciated.

Mountain Landscape behind the Saint Paul Hospital by van Gogh

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The History of The Starry Night

The Starry Night, painted about a year before his death, is one of the works Jo van Gogh-Bonger acquired from her husband, Theo Van Gogh, Vincent's brother. The history of The Starry Night may no longer be a mystery thanks to letters revealed years later after Van Gogh’s death but it is one of the most interesting and sought after lessons as the history is filled with emotions from the painter.

The Starry Night, finished in 1889, is not just one of his most renowned works, but also one of history's most famous and recognizable artworks. Van Gogh and his cherished painting, however, were not always as well-known as they are now. Even now, few people understand anything about the artistic approach he implied in this painting.

Vincent van Gogh created The Starry Night in 1889 while residing at the Saint-Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy, France, where he spent a year after experiencing mental breakdowns amongst other things due to mutilating his ear. The artist sought to capture the scenery from his room's window perspective.


The inspiration for the painting was later revealed in one of his correspondences to his brother Theo where he wrote, “this morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big.”

Though the painter liked to paint from sight, he was not permitted to work in his bedroom, so he started painting the star he had seen in his studio without the perspective for inspiration, adding paint straight from the oil paint tubes to the surface to achieve the picture's signature thick lines and bright hues. As an outcome, the dream-like scene with wavy cypress trees in the background and shining stars, a vivid crescent-shaped yellow moon, a whirling air, rolling hills, and a village in the horizon was created. Some of the aspects, such as the surrounding mountains and the village, are accurate representations of what van Gogh would have seen from his window. Meanwhile, other components, such as the church's steeple, were a part of his imagination.

This painting, which is widely regarded as his opus, was actually considered as a failure by van Gogh, based on the letter he sent to his brother. Despite this, it became a permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York after it’s acquisition in 1941 from the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest.

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