Narrator: Van Gogh often painted scenes from the world around him, but rather than depicting reality, he drew inspiration largely from his imagination and memory. He wrote about his fascination with the night sky: “It often seems to me that the night is much more alive and richly colored than the day.” Curator Ann Temkin:
Curator, Ann Temkin: What's remarkable about The Starry Night is the depiction of the sky itself. We have an intensely turbulent, vibrant, excited, agitated night sky. The stars have radiating concentric rings of light. The moon has the same set of rings around it. And also they're set in a sky which is not like the sky that we look up into at night, but one in which the various blues that Van Gogh uses are positioned into these swirling patterns.
Narrator: The village below is Saint-Remy in the south of France. Van Gogh spent a year in a mental hospital there, making more than 150 paintings depicting the hospital grounds and surrounding landscape.
Curator, Ann Temkin: And I think one would be able to speculate, rather than being a portrait of what one might see looking up at a night sky in the summer of 1889, it's much more an expression of the turmoil in the artist's own imagination that he's projecting onto that sky.
Chances are you aren't standing in front of this painting alone. You're probably surrounded by quite a few people also looking at it. And I think with this painting, one realizes that part of the reason for its status as such a treasure, and the way it's beloved by so many people, has to do with Van Gogh's way of touching one's emotions.