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Van Gogh & "Starry Night"

Updated on July 3, 2014
Starry Night
Starry Night | Source
Starry Night Over the Rhone
Starry Night Over the Rhone | Source
Cafe terrace on the  Place du Forum, Arles, at Night.
Cafe terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night. | Source

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh was a brilliant artist who wasn’t given the due recognition until after his passing. In “Starry Night”, his outlook on life & expression is shown in detail.

Vincent Willem Van Gogh was born March 30, 1853 in Groot Zundert, Brabant, Holland; his life was cut short on July 27, 1890 in Auvers – sur- Oise, France. His piece “Starry Night” is probably his best known work. Even children know his painting, learning about it in grade schools.

His influences were the view out his window while living at Saint – Remy –de Province at night; although he painted it in the daytime. His memory for details are incredible as shown in the town, the sky over the valley. “However, going by the way of Delacroix, more than it seems, by color & a more determined drawing than trompe l’oeil precision, one might express a country nature that is purer than the suburbs, the bars of Paris”.

Van Gogh was brilliant in his use of color & descriptive, organic & expressional lines in this piece. He said of himself that he had to put his emotions onto what he painted; not paint what was directly in front of him. With the blues, greens and the darker hues you can gather the sadness & depression he was plagued by. This is shown by his use of the cool temperature colors of the color scale. The values are shown incredibly well for being done all by memory, the darkness in the mountains, the shadows in the town, brightness of the moon & stars. The use of the secondary colors overtakes his use of primary ones. In the movement in the sky, it gives the sense of moving through all of this, or at least trying to. The upwards motion is a psychological effect of the brush strokes. It gives a tiny sense of hope; as to what it is in regards to, we’re not sure. You can see the organic lines in this in the cypress tree in the foreground, how it takes up most of the left side foreground, “resembles flames reaching up to the sky”, the way the shy is portrayed. His descriptive lines are seen throughout the piece; the movement in the sky; the mountains surrounding the valley, how the town is made. It is shown that there are individual homes, but nothing is geometric about it. They just flow from the brush. The expressional is how everything shown isn’t necessarily connected to the depiction.

In regards to how “Starry Night” is relevant to modern times, it is a prime example of how to use movement in its open composition; use of color & line as a way to express how one feels at that particular moment, or about a certain event happening to them. Paintings, drawings can show how one feels, not just depicting what is directly in front of you. You can take something and make it your own.


P. 416-17, Art of Europe & America, Gateways to Art; De Witte, Larman & Schields

Starry Night Over the Rhone Interpertation

As with the "Starry Night", this is also dominated by a palette of rich blues; the bright spots in the painting being the stars and reflections in the water. Even the couple down on the pier , while fitting into the color scheme of the painting, help give this one a relaxing feeling. You have the water almost completely blending in with the pier; the lightness of it gives it enough of a difference in that section so you can see it.I love how the reflection of the stars and the lights from the town play off of the water; it sometimes can be a challenge to capture that and Van Gogh got it perfectly to go with the scene. The sky is very light in the center over the town, and darkest in the corners - the furthest points away from the town. Granted it is shown as a vague semblance in the distance, but there is enough shape there to distinguish it from the background.

I agree with Van Gogh in what he said to another painter. "... confided to the painter Emile Bernard: "But when shall I ever paint the Starry Sky, this painting that keeps haunting me" and, in September, in a letter to his sister, he evoked the same subject: "Often it seems to me night is even more richly coloured than day" (

Something about these paintings draws you in; with this one you feel as if you would like to enjoy a walk on the pier, or walk along the waters edge by the town in the background and let everything that happened during the day just disappear for a little while.

Works Cited:

Cafe Terrace at Night Interpertation

In researching the history of his 3 "Starry" paintings, this one was the first, then came the "Rhone" and last was "Starry Night".

Cafe is the brightest one of the three in reference to the color palette. In that regard, though, it makes sense if you consider the scene. Van Gogh chose to paint this while the streets were alive with people, not after everyone left, businesses closed for the night, or even early morning before opening. The buildings are bright with oranges, yellows and greens; white tables; cobblestones are even on the lighter side with being a lighter grey with white and green mixed in. The people out and about are dressed brightly, the only thing that gives a hint to the paintings to come is how he does the sky in this.It begins with the building moving away from the brightness of the Cafe, moving into the greys, blues and black with some lights via windows. The blues come out fully with the sky; you don't see a movement within it, but the way the stars shine in it.

I like how this came out, it shows a shift in how he was painting at the time; in moving from varied colors to his well know earth and blue tones.

Works Cited:

Van Gogh Starry Starry Night

Do you feel that "Starry Night would have the same effect had Van Gogh had been in a different frame of mind and used brighter colors?

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© 2014 Jennifer B


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    • Msjenniferboone profile image

      Jennifer B 4 years ago from Seacoast NH

      Thank you

    • Adityapullagurla profile image

      Aditya Pullagurla 4 years ago from Sydney

      Very nice interpretation .. Liking it