Vincent van Gogh. The Starry Night. 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 × 36 1/4" (73.7 × 92.1 cm). Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest (by exchange)
  • MoMA, Floor 5, 501 The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries

The late 19th century was an era of rapid change: the emergence of a mass media, new and faster forms of transportation, noisy and bustling cities, and developments in industry, from the sewing machine to the telegraph. Vision itself was likewise transformed, whether by new kinds of illumination—such as electric light—or by the increasingly widespread availability of photographic images. Seeing the world differently, artists reacted to these changes; how one saw was as crucial as what was seen.

Paul Cézanne took up the challenge by looking harder and closer, conscious of alterations in the visual experience of each moment. Others turned their backs on industrial and technological change to look inward, focus on the domestic, or represent the unconscious, dream, and fantasy. Vincent van Gogh, too, attempted to visualize the evanescent—wind, stars, darkness—using thick paint to render scenes “as if seen in a dream, in character and yet at the same time stranger than the reality.”

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