Even though I love art history, somehow I had never actually looked into Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night from 1889. If I had to guess why, I think that it would have to be because of how commonplace the painting has become in the 21st century. Prints of the painting are available everywhere and on pillows and blankets, notepads and pens, umbrellas, coasters, tee shirts and sweatshirts, shoes, socks, underwear, tapestries, mugs, tumblers… the list goes on and on! I have even seen Starry Night tattoos! With a painting being such a huge part of consumer culture nowadays, I am a little embarrassed to say I was not aware of the story behind this piece. Which, is why I decided to write about this immensely popular painting this week.
Van Gogh painted Starry Night while staying at an asylum in France. The scene that he paints is the view from his window. Although painted from observation, the ideas of Post-Impressionism are injected into the scene in which Van Gogh’s own sense of structure in nature is applied. The painting was created during brief periods of being lucid, yet the organization of the piece is clearly thought out.
Van Gogh is careful in creating two different and separate realms in the painting- the earthly realm and the celestial realm. However, he paints the two realms in a similar fashion using brushstrokes that create movement and a swirling pattern that appears wave-like. He also carefully weaves in a piece of symbolism that ties these two realms together- a cypress tree. Cypress trees are a symbol of death, and placing a large cypress tree as rooted in the earthly realm and winding up to reach the celestial realm suggests that death is the bridge between these two realms. I found this to be a very interesting point. I also found it interesting to learn that (since I have not seen this painting in person) the paint application is so thick and heavy that the actual texture and body of the paint is used to create form.
I hope this post has enlightened you about the creative process behind one of the most famous paintings today. If not, I at least hope you learned a fun fact or two!