Vincent van Gogh was born in the Netherlands on March 30, 1853. More than a century and a half later, KAZoART pays tribute to one of the greatest Dutch painters in a new issue of “Canvassing the Masterpieces”. Let’s take a glimpse into the history and symbolism of one of this post-Impressionist’s most striking paintings: The Starry Night.

Heavenly Depths

Van Gogh made The Starry Night in June 1889, a period marked by great difficulty in the artist’s life. Looking beyond his soft landscape, serene atmosphere and dotted sky, there is a deeper sense of distress. A few months earlier, Van Gogh’s suicidal thoughts intensified radically. Therefore, he decided to leave Arles and check himself into a psychiatric hospital near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

His illness had a clear influence on his work. Such was made evident in the turbulent night he painted from his cell. The painter paid a great deal of attention to the night skies. This was not the first time he observed the stars and subsequently depicted them in such a poetic manner. In the autumn of 1888, he painted The Starry Night on the Rhône revealing the sweetness of nighttime, full of dreamy beauty.

4 Details you don’t want to miss

1. The Starry Sky

la nuit étoilée de van gogh

Just as luminous as the sun, the moon is dazzling and bright. However, we notice that this light is confined to a rather limited space. Van Gogh appreciates the nocturnal glow as it brings the sky to life in a monochrome of blues that is both grandiose and awe-inspiring. In sharp contrast to the deep blue hues are the eleven golden-yellow stars that make up the Saint-Rémois sky. Of this colour palette, Van Gogh wrote: “Some stars are lemony, others have pink, green, blue, forget-me-not lights…”

2. The Hypnotic Spiral

La Nuit étoilée de Van Gogh

Among all the arabesques that make up this starry night, Van Gogh brought the largest forms to the centre of his painting. The massive spiralseems to be propelling the spinning motion. Was this perhaps symbolic of his illness? Something that kept his artistic wheels spinning while also driving him mad? The question as to whether we are witnessing one of Van Gogh’s episodes or a creative outburst still remains unanswered. Perhaps it’s a cathartic mix of the two.

What we do know, however, is that Van Gogh was inspired by Japanese art. His particular interest lied in prints wherein we regularly find colourful spirals surrounded by solid tones.

3. A Free-Flowing Cypress

La Nuit étoilée de Van Gogh

Typical of the southern French landscape, the cypress tree’s branches sway and move like waves. Van Gogh’s, however, is seized by lethargy. Serpent-like in appearance, it serves as an echo of the tortured and twisted environment in which Van Gogh found himself. Upon further exploration of the view from his cell, it was found that the trees were a fictitious addition by the artist.

4. The Quaint Village

La Nuit étoilée de Van Gogh

Despite the late hour, dim yet welcoming lights appear in the windows of homes. Next to the houses is a church whose bell tower seems to have been pulled into the celestial scrolls. Beyond the village of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence are the Alpilles, a mountainous region that he could see from his window.

An Expression of Liberation or Madness?

Although some elements in this painting suggest that the tireless movement of the skies would be Van Gogh’s expression of mental illness, we can take a more positive approach. For example, the blue could symbolise the strength and serenity of his healing mind while the yellow is emblematic of cheerfulness and warmth. Is this not then an expression of the artist’s freedom and recovery?

He wrote to the painter Émile Bernard: “But when will I make the starry sky, this painting that always worries me?” Fixated on capturing the genuine beauty and depth of a night sky, his final product displays an obvious mastery, one that emanates from the canvas itself.

Van Gogh-inspired work on KAZoART

The painting entitled Lune (Moon in English) by Lepeudry plunges us into a nocturnal landscape highlighted by the artist’s visible brush strokes. This reminds us of Van Gogh’s studies as he considered the night time sky to be a work of art in open air.

Lepeudry, Lune (acrylic on paper)