Vincent van Gogh produced emotional, visually arresting paintings over the course of a career that lasted only a decade. Nature, and the people living closely to it, first stirred his artistic inclinations and continued to inspire him throughout his short life. But rather than faithfully depicting his surroundings, he painted landscapes altered by his imagination, including The Starry Night. Van Gogh was seeking respite from plaguing depression at the Saint-Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy in southern France when he painted The Starry Night. It reflects his direct observations of his view of the countryside from his window as well as the memories and emotions this view evoked in him. The steeple of the church, for example, resembles those common in his native Netherlands, while the mountains in the background describe those in his surrounding landscape.
Publication excerpt from Modern Art & Ideas on Coursera
In creating this image of the night sky—dominated by the bright moon at right and Venus at center left—van Gogh heralded modern painting’s new embrace of mood, expression, symbol, and sentiment. Inspired by the view from his window at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy, in southern France, where the artist spent twelve months in 1889–90 seeking reprieve from his mental illnesses, The Starry Night (made in mid-June) is both an exercise in observation and a clear departure from it. The vision took place at night, yet the painting, among hundreds of artworks van Gogh made that year, was created in several sessions during the day, under entirely different atmospheric conditions. The picturesque village nestled below the hills was based on other views—it could not be seen from his window—and the cypress at left appears much closer than it was. And although certain features of the sky have been reconstructed as observed, the artist altered celestial shapes and added a sense of glow.
Van Gogh assigned an emotional language to night and nature that took them far from their actual appearances. Dominated by vivid blues and yellows applied with gestural verve and immediacy, The Starry Night also demonstrates how inseparable van Gogh’s vision was from the new procedures of painting he had devised, in which color and paint describe a world outside the artwork even as they telegraph their own status as, merely, color and paint.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)