Van Gogh's Starry Night: Description, Analysis & Facts

Van Gogh's Starry Night: Description, Analysis & Facts
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  • 0:02 Description of the Painting
  • 1:06 Analysis
  • 3:02 Some Quick Facts
  • 3:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

In this lesson, we'll be looking at Vincent van Gogh's famous painting ''The Starry Night.'' Give it a good look and consider its many different facets and interpretations, learn some facts about its creation along the way, and then test your knowledge with a quiz.

Description of the Painting

Painted by Vincent van Gogh just months before his tragic suicide, The Starry Night is perhaps his greatest masterpiece. In the work, van Gogh portrays a nameless European village amidst a dark wilderness, complete with dampened lights. Some buildings manage to emit just enough light to be noticed, but others, including, notably, the church, are dark and unwelcoming. However, the real action is what is going on above the town, where the moon and stars light up the sky. Light moves across the sky in great sweeps and strokes, defeating the dark sky wherever it is encountered.

However, the stars are not enough to light up the whole sky, and between the viewer, the town, and the stars, there are vast fields of dark blue, a constant reminder of the depression and fear felt throughout the artist's life. Despite the best efforts of the stars above and the town below, the darkness still is not completely overcome.

Analysis of the Painting

While van Gogh provided, via extensive letters to his brother, commentary on many of his works, he wrote shockingly little about The Starry Night. However, we do know that The Starry Night was not Vincent van Gogh's first attempt at painting the night sky, and by comparing the work to the earlier painting Starry Night Over the Rhone, one is able to make several inferences about how van Gogh felt by this point of his life.

Starry Night Over the Rhone and The Starry Night
Both starry night paintings by van Gogh

Foremost, the humanity represented by Starry Night Over the Rhone is much brighter, as evidenced not only by the brightness of the windows, but the depths at which they are reflected on the river. Furthermore, the darkness of the sky is brighter than in The Starry Night, which, in the latter painting, is a symbol for depression. In the distance, the lighter blue is seen by some critics as the first signs of morning. It is important to note that here the optimism comes from the sky, not from the town.

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