Starry Night – Facts About Van Gogh’s Masterpiece June 1, 2019
1. It is Van Gogh’s view from an asylum.
After experiencing a mental breakdown in the winter of 1888, van Gogh checked himself into the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum. The view became the basis of Starry Night. Van Gogh wrote in one of his many letters to his brother Theo, “This morning I saw the country from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big.”
2. He left out the iron bars.
Art historians have determined that Van Gogh took some liberties with the view from his second story bedroom window. His view actually included the window’s iron bars. In another letter to Theo, he wrote, “Through the iron-barred window, I can see an enclosed square of wheat … above which, in the morning, I watch the sunrise in all its glory.”
3. The village was ‘added in’.
From his window, Van Gogh wouldn’t have been able to see Saint-Rémy. However, art historians think the village in The Starry Night is from one of van Gogh’s charcoal sketches of the French town.
4. Is ‘Starry Night’ a comment on mortality?
The dark spires in the foreground are cypress trees, plants most often associated with cemeteries and death. As Van Gogh quoted, “Looking at the stars always makes me dream. Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star.”
5. This was actually Van Gogh’s 2nd ‘Starry Night’.
The Starry Night that is world-renowned was painted in 1889. But the year before, van Gogh created his original ‘Starry Night’, sometimes known as ‘Starry Night Over The Rhone’.
6. Van Gogh considered ‘Starry Night’ to be a disappointment.
He wrote to Theo, “All in all, the only things I consider a little good in it are the Wheatfield, the Mountain, the Orchard, the Olive trees with the blue hills and the Portrait and the Entrance to the quarry, and the rest says nothing to me.”
7. Van Gogh’s ‘star’ was probably Venus.
In 1985, UCLA art historian Albert Boime compared Starry Night to a planetarium recreation of how the night’s sky would have appeared on June 19, 1889. The similarities were striking and proved that van Gogh’s “morning star,” as referenced in his letter to his brother, was, in fact, the planet Venus.
8. Van Gogh sold only one paintings in his lifetime.
Belgian artist and collector, Anna Boch, purchased van Gogh’s ‘Red Vineyard at Arles’ for 400 francs in 1890. This is the only documented sale of a van Gogh paintings during his lifetime. Today this historic painting is on display at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. Art historian, Marc Edo Tralbaut, mentions a letter from van Gogh’s brother about a second sale to a London dealer. This, however, has never been verified.
9. van Gogh’s legacy is due, in large part, to Theo’s widow, Johanna.
Following van Gogh’s death in 1890, Theo inherited all of his brother’s works. When he died in the fall of 1891, his wife, Johanna, became the owner of the collection. She is credited with building van Gogh’s posthumous fame, thanks to her tireless promoting of his work.
In 1900, she sold Starry Night to French poet, Julien Leclerq. He later sold it to Post-Impressionist artist, Émile Schuffenecker. Six years later, Johanna bought the painting back, so she could pass it along to the Oldenzeel Gallery in Rotterdam.
10. The Starry Night now resides at the Museum of Modern Art in New York
Lillie P. Bliss was one of the foremost collectors of early 20th century modern art, acquired van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’. Alongside Mary Quinn Sullivan and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, she helped found Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art. Following her death in 1931, she turned much of her collection over to MoMA. Subsequently, in 1941, the museum sold three pieces from Bliss’s impressive collection, so that they could purchase Starry Night.