Vincent van Gogh considered The Starry Night a “failure”. What makes it an icon in modern times – the story behind the artwork or the painting itself?
The starry Night — three words that describe a timeless and beautiful painting by the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh in 1889. A painting that became an overnight sensation and immortalized a painter who was not only known for his work, but his mental health was deteriorating, which led to him cutting off his ear and eventually die by suicide. Much has been made of this painting, which now hangs permanently in the Museum of Modern Art in New York and is worth billions of dollars. Is it the story behind this painting that makes it so special or the art itself that speaks volumes?
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A painting by a “tortured” artist
Known as a “tortured” artist, Van Gogh was not so famous during his lifetime. when he painted The starry Night, he was staying at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole psychiatric asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in the south of France. He had admitted himself to the asylum after cutting off his ear during an argument with fellow post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin. While in the asylum, he got two rooms – one was his bedroom, the other a painting studio. He made several paintings based on the view from his window and the surrounding gardens. His bedroom had a view of the French Alpilles mountain range, which inspired many of his landscape paintings. The dark arrows in the foreground of the painting represent cypress trees. Trees are commonly associated with death and cemeteries, and in some cultures they symbolize the life of the soul after death. Some people even say that a cypress reaching to the sky means sending the soul to the afterlife. During this time, Van Gogh experienced intense psychotic episodes, and he considered this painting a complete failure.
The painting was eventually taken by his brother. It is said that he painted this piece under the influence of treatment drugs for his manic episodes and was hallucinated throughout the process. According to pathologist Paul Wolf, Van Gogh’s penchant for yellow in paintings like The starry Night resulted from an excessive consumption of digitalis, a treatment of its time against epilepsy.
Contrary to popular belief, the painting does not reflect his deteriorating mental state. It is known that painting was the only thing that helped him get better, that’s why his brother insisted that he have his painting studio at the asylum. Van Gogh is also known to have enjoyed painting the night sky. An admirer and student of astronomy, he enjoyed studying the position of stars and planets through his works. This is seen in the famous The starry Night The painting.
The starry Night
Besides astronomy, Van Gogh was heavily influenced by the Japanese art style. The starry Night is a matter of whirlwinds. If you look at the brushstrokes in the paint, they flow and are done in circular lines. Some brush strokes even look like big waves in the sky. It was inspired by The big wave by Hokusai. Van Gogh creates a sense of movement with more agitated white lines as the sky meets the mountains in the background. He also used contrasting colors to create more movement. Each star and the moon have an aura of yellow and white surrounding them. He then uses darker shades of blue to create contrast. A large part of the painting is the village with a church as the focal point. This village did not exist in real life and was only a fragment of Van Gogh’s imagination. It is said that he could have made the church from his childhood memories as its architecture resonates more with the churches found in the Netherlands. He was known to have a religious streak in him and therefore many people believe that this painting has subliminal religious messages. The eleven stars in the sky, for example, could represent the story of Joseph in the Old Testament of the Bible.
Impact of painting lately
For a painter who painted over 800 oil paintings and only sold one in his lifetime, Van Gogh thought of Starry Night as a “failure”; but it would shake the modern world like a tsunami. Whether it’s the intriguing story of the artist or the artistic techniques used during that time, this painting still resonates with art lovers everywhere. The artist, like many others, gained popularity after his death, making The starry Night an incarnation of modern art mixed with the post-impressionist movement. Those who study art or simply like to look at works of art can appreciate the composition of the painting with the celestial swirls, the stylized stars, a crescent and the radiant moon. The painting also became a well-known symbol of expressionism. Starry Night showcases the vast power of nature and the spire of the church and the cypress tree – representing man and nature – both point to the heavens.
Next step in Behind the Art: Why is it The crying woman of Picasso considered an icon of the cubist movement?
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