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Starry Night

Museum of Modern Art, New York


In a letter to his sister, Wilhelmina in 1888 van Gogh wrote:

“At present I absolutely want to paint a starry sky. It often seems to me that night is still more richly colored than the day; having hues of the most intense violets, blues and greens. If only you pay attention to it you will see that certain stars are lemon-yellow, others pink or green, blue and forget-me-not brilliance.”
John B. Nici, Famous Works of Art – And How They Got That Way (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), 174. 

John B. Rici surveys contemporary critical descriptions of Starry Night:
“Scholars have not only re-created his life, making it into what the modern world calls edutainment, they have explored each item in his paintings searching for symbols. For example, his cypress trees, the kind that flame up in The Starry Night, have been described as ‘nature contorted by madness. Strange, feverish works full of power, tension and violent expression. The realism of a neurotic, a desperate genius, often great, sometimes grotesque, but always pathological’ [Gustave Friedrich Hartlaub, 1922]. Or, ‘…The spectral black cypresses shriek their haunting anguish. A storm of madness, the flame symbolizing his consuming creative passion and expressing his inner upheaval’ [William F. Downes, 1930]. ‘What we see here is epilepsy. This would explain the impulsive, irascible and mystical quality of the cypresses’ []Louis Piérard, 1939]. And finally…’In The Starry Night the contrast between the soaring verticals and oppressive horizontals as symbols of the conflicting effects of fate can be compared with epileptic bipolar movements’ []Kurt Badt, 1961].” 
John B. Nici, Famous Works of Art – And How They Got That Way (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), 178.

Similar Subjects by Other Arists:

Jean-François Millet, Starry Night, 1851 (Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven)

Edvard Munch, Starry Night, 1893 (J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu)

Web Resources:

smarthistory: van Gogh, Starry Night

About the Artist

Born: Zundert, The Netherlands, 30 March 1853
Died: Auvers-sur-Oise, 29 July 1890
Nationality: Dutch