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Landscapes: Real and Imagined

Discover groundbreaking techniques in early modern landscape paintings.


Modern Landscapes

Discover groundbreaking techniques in early modern landscape paintings.


The Starry Night

Vincent van Gogh
(Dutch, 1853–1890)

1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/4" (73.7 x 92.1 cm)

Van Gogh’s The Starry Night is a symbolic landscape full of movement, energy, and light. The quietness of the village contrasts with the swirling energy of the sky and the flame-like cypress tree in the foreground. Van Gogh’s impasto technique, or thickly applied colors, creates a rhythmic effect—the picture seems to constantly move in its frame. “This morning I saw the country from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big,” wrote van Gogh to his brother, Theo, describing the inspiration for The Starry Night. But the painting is more about imagination than reality. While it is true that this landscape is of a real night sky that Van Gogh observed while living in the South of France, the painting contains fictional elements, such as the church spire, which did not exist in the small village he saw from his window; it was transposed from his memory of a similar church in his native Netherlands.

An Italian word for “paste” or “mixture”, used to describe a painting technique where paint (usually oil) is thickly laid on a surface, so that the texture of brush- or palette-knife strokes are clearly visible.

The method with which an artist, writer, performer, athlete, or other producer employs technical skills or materials to achieve a finished product or endeavor.

A form, sign, or emblem that represents something else, often something immaterial, such as an idea or emotion.

The natural landforms of a region; also, an image that has natural scenery as its primary focus.

The area of an image—usually a photograph, drawing, or painting—that appears closest to the viewer.

Say What? In a letter to his brother Theo, Vincent van Gogh wrote passionately about painting a scene as he imagined it, not as it was expected to be rendered: “Those mountains, were they blue? [….] They were blue, weren’t they? Good—make them blue and that’s all!”

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The Starry Night

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890)