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Starry Night

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Details
Oil on canvas
73.0 x 92.0 cm.
Saint-Rémy: June, 1889
F 612, JH 1731

New York: The Museum of Modern Art

History
Provenance
Exhibitions

Analysis
See below

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Starry Night is probably Vincent van Gogh's most famous painting. Instantly recognizable because of its unique style, this work has been the subject of poetry, fiction, CD-ROMs as well as the well known song "Vincent" or "Starry, Starry Night" by Don McLean.

While there's no denying the popularity of Starry Night, it's also interesting to note that there is very little known about Vincent's own feelings toward his work. This is mainly due to the fact that he only mentions it in his letters to Theo twice (Letters 595 and 607), and then only in passing. In his correspondence with his brother, Vincent would often discuss specific works in great detail, but not so in the case of Starry Night. Why? It's difficult to say.

Starry Night was painted while Vincent was in the asylum at Saint-Rémy and his behaviour was very erratic at the time, due to the severity of his attacks. Unlike most of Van Gogh's works, Starry Night was painted from memory and not outdoors as was Vincent's preference. This may, in part, explain why the emotional impact of the work is so much more powerful than many of Van Gogh's other works from the same period.

Some people have made stylistic comparisons to Vincent's other well known and equally turbulent work Wheatfield with Crows. Does the tumultuous style of these works reflect a tortured mind? Or is there something more we can read within the whorls Vincent's raging night sky? This is what makes Starry Night not only Vincent's most famous work, but also one of its most frequently interpreted in terms of its meaning and importance.

Some people have speculated about the eleven stars in the painting. While it's true that Vincent didn't have the same religious fervour in 1889, when he painted the work, as he did in his earlier years, there is a possibility that the story of Joseph in the Old Testament may have had an influence on the composition of the work.

'Look, I have had another dream' he said, 'I thought I saw the sun, the moon and eleven stars, bowing to me.'
Genesis 37:9

Whatever the interpretations or underlying meanings, Starry Night stands out as one of the most important works of art produced in the nineteenth century.

Additional Commentary
  • The interesting issue of Starry Night and its astronomical significance is discussed in detail on an Online Forum page.

  • Greg Saucier discusses the idea of a yin/yang symbol within Starry Night.


Provenance

Owner City Country Date acquired Comments
Theo van Gogh Paris France 1889-91  
Johanna van Gogh-Bonger Amsterdam Netherlands 1891-1905  
Oldenzeel Gallery Rotterdam Netherlands 1905-06  
Miss G.P. van Stolk Rotterdam Netherlands 1906-38 On loan to Museum Boymans, Rotterdam, until May 1924.
Paul Rosenburg Art Gallery New York United States 1938-41
Museum of Modern Art New York United States 1941 Acquired through the L.P. Bliss bequest.


Exhibitions

Year City Country Venue Exhibition Name Start Date End Date No.
1905 Amsterdam Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Tentoonstelling Vincent van Gogh 15 July 1905 1 August 1905 199
1906 Rotterdam Netherlands Kunstzalen Oldenzeel Tentoonstelling Vincent van Gogh 26 January 1906 28 February 1906 47
1927-28 Rotterdam Netherlands Museum Boymans Kersttentoonstelling in het Museum Boijmans 23 December 1927 16 January 1928 33
1944 New York (2) United States Museum of Modern Art Art in Progress, Fifteenth Anniversary Exhibition  
 
29
1948 Cleveland United States Cleveland Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh 3 November 1948 12 December 1948 19
1949-50 New York United States Metropolitan Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh Paintings and Drawings. A Special Loan Exhibition 21 October 1949 15 January 1950 111A
1950 Chicago United States Art Institute of Chicago Vincent van Gogh Paintings and Drawings. A Special Loan Exhibition 1 February 1950 16 April 1950 111A
1950-51 Philadelphia United States Philadelphia Museum of Art Masterpieces of Painting, Daimond Jubilee Exhibition 4 November 1950 11 February 1951 90
1952-53 New York (1) United States Museum of Modern Art Les Fauves 8 October 1952 4 January 1953 4
1954 Chicago United States Art Institute of Chicago Masterpieces of Religious Art 15 July 1954 31 August 1954 p 54
1955 Paris (2) France Musée de l'Orangerie De David à Toulouse-Lautrec, Chefs d'oeuvre des collection américaines  
 
34
1986-87 New York United States Metropolitan Museum of Art Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy and Auvers 12 November 1986 22 March 1987 14
1990 Amsterdam Netherlands Van Gogh Museum Vincent van Gogh. Schilderijen 30 March 1990 29 July 1990 93
2000 Atlanta United States High Museum of Art Van Gogh's 'Starry Night': Three Masterpieces from The Museum of Modern Art, New York 2 September 2000 5 November 2000  
2001-02 Chicago United States Art Institute of Chicago Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South 22 September 2001 13 January 2002 116
2003-04 Houston United States Museum of Fine Arts The Heroic Century: The Museum of Modern Art's Masterpieces, 200 Paintings and Sculptures 21 September 2003 4 January 2004
2004 Berlin Germany New National Gallery The Heroic Century: The Museum of Modern Art's Masterpieces, 200 Paintings and Sculptures 18 February 2004 19 September 2004  
2008 New Haven United States Yale University Art Gallery Van Gogh’s Cypresses and The Starry Night: Visions of Saint-Rémy 15 June 2008 7 September 2008 ---
2008-09 New York United States Museum of Modern Art Van Gogh at the Colours of the Night 21 September 2008 5 January 2009 39
2009 Amsterdam Netherlands Van Gogh Museum Van Gogh at the Colours of the Night 13 February 2009 7 June 2009 53

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