Instantly recognizable and an iconic image in our culture, Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night is a touchstone of modern art and one of the most beloved works in the Museum’s collection. It draws thousands of visitors every day who want to gaze at it, be instructed about it, and be photographed next to it—yet few viewers are familiar with the story behind this unlikely masterpiece, executed during a tumultuous period in the artist’s life. Painted in June of 1889, it’s one of the many nighttime paintings created by van Gogh during his stay at an asylum in Saint-Rémy, in the south of France. Despite being in a state of fragile mental health, and isolated from friends, family, and other artists, van Gogh tackled his art with unprecedented fervor and worked tirelessly to identify and articulate his own style.
To help shed light on this painting that holds an enduring fascination for art audiences everywhere, the Museum has created its very first iPhone app, Vincent van Gogh: The Starry Night. Based on the book originally published for MoMA’s exhibition Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night, the app combines an insightful essay by the distinguished art historian Richard Thomson with over thirty high-resolution illustrations—including more than a dozen works by van Gogh and paintings by other artists that demonstrate his influences—that readers can zoom in on for close observation of details, brushwork, and technique not easily visible at first glance.
Thomson provides an in-depth look at van Gogh’s career, from his turn to art at a relatively late age to the complex and difficult days at the end of his life, and discusses the painting in the context of its creation, bringing together the artist’s own words with a close observation of his technique and style. As he points out, The Starry Night’s popularity is a “rather surprising status to have been achieved by a painting that was executed with neither fanfare nor much explanation in van Gogh’s own correspondence, that on reflection the artist found did not satisfy him, and that displeased his crucial supporter and primary critic, his brother Theo.” Now you can take the painting with you to ponder its mysteries anywhere you please, whether it be the Museum’s Sculpture Garden, your kitchen table, or even the south of France under the same skies that van Gogh gazed upon.