The Sun, the Moon and the Eleven Stars – Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night

by Erissa Robles, 2010-21894

Midnight in Paris is one of the movies I was able to watch recently, despite of a very busy schedule. And it is where I got the inspiration for this blog entry.

The movie’s poster inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night

Though the movie did not feature the Starry Night painting itself, the poster of the movie, as you can see, was inspired by it.

Starry Night is probably the most famous painting of the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, who is considered one of the greatest post-impressionist as his influence is very enormous and can be seen in many aspects of 20th century art.

Vincent Willem van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853 at Groot-Zundert in the province of Brabant, Holland. He had a shaky beginning in the field of art. His earliest years were spent as a quiet child with little or no attention spent on art. It was only at the age of 27 that Van Gogh produced all of his works (some 900 paintings and 1100 drawings). It was exactly 10 years before his depression took a tighter hold on him as shown in his dark paintings during the last years of his life. He attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest in a wheat field in Auvers, France. He survived, but died two days later from the wound. Though recently, there is an ongoing controversy whether he really shot himself. One reason is the gun he used was never found. There are other intriguing new perspectives explored and a few books were written and published about this controversy.

Self Portrait, 1886

Van Gogh is tormented by mental instability for the majority of his life. Hundreds of physicians and psychiatrists have tried to define Van Gogh’s medical conditions over the years and the more probable mental and physical diagnoses include temporal lobe epilepsy, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Reports mentioned that these mental problems made him suffer particularly towards his last few years in which he created his most popular work, Starry Night.

Starry Night, 1889

Starry Night was painted during one of the most difficult periods of Van Gogh’s life, while he was staying in an asylum at Saint-Remy-de-Provence, France. The painting depicts the view outside his room window at night. Unlike most of Van Gogh’s works, Starry Night was painted from memory during the day. I think, this may explain, in part, why the emotional impact of the work is more powerful than many of Van Gogh’s other works from the same period.

The painting is available for viewing at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. Its gallery text label read:

“This morning I saw the country from my window a long time before sunrise,” the artist wrote to his brother Theo, “with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big.” Rooted in imagination and memory, The Starry Night embodies an inner, subjective expression of van Gogh’s response to nature. In thick sweeping brushstrokes, a flame-like cypress unites the churning sky and the quiet village below. The village was partly invented, and the church spire evokes van Gogh’s native land, the Netherlands.

Over the years, several interpretations of the painting have been made. Some say that there is a yin/yang symbol within the Starry Night. Greg Saucier, a graphic designer and painter, writes:

“An interesting observation about Starry Night, is that the large, swirling cloud mass in the center of the painting has a very strong resemblance to the Oriental Yin & Yang symbol…. Since Vincent was influenced by Japanese art, perhaps he included the symbol consciously. But we may never know for sure.”

Modified image of the Starry Night, Greg Saucier

It is also said that during Van Gogh’s younger years, he wanted to dedicate his life to evangelization of those in poverty. Many believe that this religious endeavor may be reflected in the eleven stars found in the painting. In Genesis 37:9 the following statement is made:

“And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.”

Though we may never know what are the real meanings associated with the painting, Starry Night will always stand out as one of the most important works of art produced in the nineteenth century. And in the near future, I should say, I want to see and experience personally the beauty and magic this work of art has brought to mankind.

I want to end this post by quoting a few lines from Vincent (Starry Starry Night), the song written by Don Mclean as a tribute to Vincent van Gogh. I believe these lines describe, in part, what Vincent van Gogh went through – and that people only care to understand what he went through after they saw his works, after his death. It is said Van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime, The Red Vineyard, which was created in 1888, and he only became famous after his death in 1890.

Now I understand what you tried to say to me

How you suffered for your sanity
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen
They did not know how

Perhaps they’ll listen now

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