24 February 2009

Vincent van Gogh's "Starry Night" & "Starry Night Over the Rhone"

"The Starry Night" and "Starry Night Over the Rhone" are paintings by Dutch post-impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh. They are inspired by the night sky in Arles, France. The idea of painting at night intrigued Van Gogh. In letters to his brother, Theo, he described the importance to capture the sparkling colors of the night sky and the artificial lighting that was new to this time in history.

In a letter to his sister Wilhelmina, Van Gogh wrote, "At present I absolutely want to paint a starry sky. It often seems to me that night is still more richly coloured 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 a green, blue and forget-me-not brilliance. And without my expatiating on this theme it is obvious that putting little white dots on the blue-black is not enough to paint a starry sky."

"The Starry Night" 1889

"Starry Night" is van Gogh's view from the window of his sanitorium room. The center of this painting shows the village of Saint-Rémy under a beautiful, swirling night sky, the Alpilles mountains far to the right, and some hills. The cypress tree to the left was added.

(road to Arles)

The sky in "Starry Night" has been compared to the 1845 drawing by Lord Rosse of the Whirlpool Galaxy as well as an astronomical photograph of a star named V838 Monocerotis, taken by the Hubble telescope in 2004. The clouds of gas surrounding the star resemble the swirling patterns van Gogh used in this sky.

The Whirlpool Galaxy (Lord Rosse 's sketch 1845)

Monocerotis Galaxy (Hubble telescope)

"The Starry Night" is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.


"Starry Night Over the Rhone" 1888

"Starry Night over the Rhone" was painted along the banks of the Rhine River. This painting beautifully shows the reflections of the gas lighting in Arles across the blue water of the Rhine River. The sky is illuminated by the constellation Ursa Major (Big Dipper) which was moved from it's true north sky into the south sky for this painting. One can see the towers of Saint-Julien and Saint-Trophime at the left and the iron bridge connecting Arles to Trinquetaille on the right.

(photograph from the same vantage point)

This painting was first exhibited in 1889 at the annual exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants in Paris, together with van Gogh's Irises. The latter was added by Theo, while Vincent had proposed one of his paintings from the public gardens in Arles, most probably the version now in the Phillips Collection.


Pop Culture
"The Starry Night" inspired French composer Henri Dutilleux's orchestral work "Timbres, Espace, Mouvement", American poet Anne Sexton's poem "The Starry Night", Canadian composer Giancarlo Scalia's piano composition "Starry Night" and Don McLean's song "Vincent", which is known for its opening words, "Starry, starry night..." Joe Satriani has a song entitled "Starry Night."

Jack's Mannequin and Something Corporate singer Andrew McMahon has a tattoo of the painting on his arm. The painting has been recreated in the "3d world Second Life" by artist Robbie Dingo while set to Don McLean's song. The painting also made an appearance and had an important role in the fifth season episode "Starry Night" of Boy Meets World.

Tupac Shakur wrote a poem dedicated to Van Gogh in his poetry book, The Rose That Grew From Concrete.


timethief said...

I love the changes you have made to this blog. It's now accessible and easy to read. The font color and background provide a good contrast. YES!

Liz said...

Thanks Time Thief. :D

HarveyAvatar said...

Way to dig up some background info BL. Thumbing this :)

Liz said...

Thanks Harvey, Should do lots more on van Gogh, though!

Doson said...

Road to Arles & The Galaxies are beautiful & dreamy too. Enjoyed reading.

BTW like TT I like the new look of your blog & not forgetting.. I had a tough time looking for the COMMENT thingy.. My Eyes :D

Liz said...

Doson - I increased the size of the blog footer so that the COMMENTS is easier to find. Thanks for letting me know. :D