An oil-on-canvas painting by Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night depicts the view from his window when he was in an asylum room in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France. Since 1941, the painting has been the star attraction at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, where I saw it up-close earlier this month – like the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, there is constantly an abundance of visitors crowded around it, taking photos of it (guilty as charged, your honour!).
Now van Gogh’s brushstrokes had a unique style and he consistently brought them to his paintings, making his works instantly recognisable as van Goghs. He absolutely brought those brushstrokes to The Starry Night, making it a distinctive and eye-catching depiction of a commune at night, but what one cannot appreciate until they see this painting with their own eyes is the wonderful sense of texture that his brushstrokes give to the canvas. Beholding them up-close, I really did find them stunning to look at – it was by no means my first experience of van Gogh, as I have been to exhibitions of his work at the Royal Academy of Art, London, but it certainly reinforced my opinion that van Goghs are must-sees in galleries.
It is a beautiful recreation of a view (I can only assume that it is an accurate recreation as I have never visited Saint-Rémy-de-Provence) with gorgeous, quintessentially van Gogh brushstrokes, but it is of course most famous for its wonderfully eye-catching night sky. I love the fact that van Gogh made the sky a dark blue rather than the black that most people think of regarding the night sky – not only does it give make it easier for his fabulous brushstrokes to catch one’s eye, but it really does make it feel like a sky illuminated by the brightness and dazzling qualities of the stars and Moon. What stands out most in that night sky, however, is the painting’s namesake – the stars. And I love that just as much as I love the utterly wonderful brushstrokes.
Now van Gogh could have just painted any old sight from his window and it would likely have been a lovely painting, but the fact that he made the stars in the sky, along with the Moon, be the most eye-catching aspect is – I believe – a testimony to a) the fact that a bright Moon can be very eye-catching, and b) the utterly captivating quality of stars in the night sky. There have been a few occasions in my life (typically in the summer) when I have laid back on the grass outside at night-time and stargazed. You may be thinking right now that I am a weirdo for that, but hear me out – stargazing is wonderful, particularly on a quiet night when the air is still (and I will forever be thankful to my friend Towner for first recommending it to me). By pausing and looking up to the stars, you realise just how bright and beautiful they are in a way that you simply cannot when walking home. They catch your eye and they captivate you in a way which is somewhat indescribable – ultimately you are beholding the beauty of creation and find yourself appreciating how stunning they are. And for me, The Starry Night captures that quality. Sure, van Gogh was not lying on the grass when he painted it, but he no doubt would have seen the stars and Moon from his window, and this painting captures just how beautiful they are, just how much they stand out in their brightness when one simply pauses and takes the time to look upon them.