A Moment in Art History: The Starry Night by Van Gogh- the “failure” now recognized as a masterpiece

Van Gogh’s The Starry Night is one of the most widely analyzed art pieces in the world. What makes this painting so fascinating to researchers in fields ranging from art history to psychology to physics?

Van Gogh himself definitely wouldn’t have expected The Starry Night to become one of his most famous paintings. In a letter to Émile Bernard, he called the painting a failure, believing that he had made a mistake by straying too far from nature and into abstraction.

Links mentioned in the video

Great Wave by Hokusai video:


Ted Ed van Gogh turbulence video:



Parts of this video were scripted from:



About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.


  1. I saw Starry Starry Night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art a few years ago. I loved it, of course. The thing that struck me right away as remarkable was how small it was. Somehow I was expecting it to be quite a bit larger.

  2. Thank you again for offering your insights into famous artists. I like Van Gogh’s brush strokes and style. I like Starry Night, probably because it is so famous. I always learn a lot from your presentations!!

  3. Thank you for talking about Starry Night. My husband and I recently put together a jigsaw puzzle of Starry Night and I suspect your readers would like to do so too. One really gets familiar with his painting when you are trying to fit puzzle pieces together. Thanks again.

    1. My mother and I put together a 1000 piece Starry Night puzzle too! It was by far the most difficult puzzle we have ever attempted. We borrowed it from our neighbor who said she and her husband gave up on it. I got so determined to finish that thing that I pushed all else aside till it was done!

  4. I saw the “Studio of the south” exhibition in Chicago some years ago. The exhibition was specific to the time Vincent and Gauguin were together. I ended up with a personal guard (story for later), but the show was intense and I absorbed a lot. It’s easy to say “I like his alla prima brushwork” but it’s quite another thing to see it, painting after painting. Try “all first” painting and how long does the activity last?
    But there was something else. Vincent’s yellows could have no warmth whatsoever, and his blues could be hot. I was mesmerized.
    I left the show after a couple of hours (it was timed because we had to subscribe and reserve a time slot) totally drained and weeping. (Gave my personal guard something to remember).
    Something that needs to be mentioned is how miraculous it is that we have any work of Vincent’s at all. Theo, who collected his canvasses and bought his paints was dead six months later. It fell to Theo’s widow to handle all the canvasses- numbering hundreds- compressed into those few years in Arles.
    The impact of Starry Night on me directly is how I “see” the world. He set me on a course toward substance. Perhaps he wasn’t a failed pastor after all.

    1. I know I commented once. I would like to add. One of my early profs in art school and I kept u[ with each other. i was privileged to have “Friday” with him for a number of years. (Schooling is never over). We had a conversation about Vincent across a couple of weeks. That strayed relentlessly toward “how do you know you are an artist?” From there it was an easy step to “vocation”. To be an artist is to enter a vocation. We proclaim our inward sense outwardly and then act on it- believing into the vocation (uttered word).
      When you take Vincent’s work in toto, you see how he acted on his vocation. That said, all of his paintings are the energy of his vocation working itself out. I have always felt with Vincent that the energy he had- the will to act, was deeper than just about anyone else. He painted because his very life depended on it.
      Just my thoughts and ideas generated by two old codgers over Chardonnay and French Fries on a Friday afternoon.

  5. Starry Night is, indeed, a classic, and it’s very hard as an artist not to be influenced by it. That’s why I featured Starry Night in one of my “GEODES”, which you can see here if you like:


    It also includes other Van Gogh works, obviously, especially his widely recognized home interior.

    Cheers, Bryan

  6. Jason, thank you for this study!
    I’ve seen Starry Night at the Met few years back. (I remember taking a photo of the people taking a photo of it rather than enjoying the real masterpiece, it was so sad!)
    And few months back I went to see the Van Gogh Experience in NYC. Never in my crazy imagination have I expected to be Moved so wildly, so fully, so indescribably! I was shaking during the whole show, crying my eyes out, grateful to wear the mask so no one could see me.
    When they had Starry Night climbing up the walls surrounding me I was in another universe, I only wish I didn’t refrain myself from touching, hugging the walls so I could totally be immersed and become part His paintings!
    So thank you for taking me back into Vincent’s world and giving me goosebumps once again.

  7. I have always loved Van Gogh’s work. I have seen several in person over the years, and probably would have seen Starry Night in NYC when I lived there (1985) and was going to art school at SVA. But my memory is so bad I am not sure. The comment above about it being small sounds right. I have yet to see the immersive Van Gogh show that is in so many big cities now; and probably would enjoy it. It’s kind of mind boggling to know he only sold one painting in his life time. So tragic that he never benefited from the fortune his work is bringing to other folks, who must be cashing in on it now. I think people who have connections to the unseen; visionaries; often have a hard time living in our ordinary world and day to day life. Van Gogh was certainly one of those. I had such mixed feelings about the Van Gogh immersion show that I decided to seek out local artists venues rather than see the show – while visiting a city it was playing in. Lots of interesting introspection into my thinking there. I would have cried too, I am sure.

  8. In 2019 I made my first visit to NYC and one of the places I had to visit was MoMA to see The Starry Night in person. (and Warhol’s soup cans) In the 1970’s I searched all over Europe for it, not knowing which museum it was in. LOL! I think I was most surprised that it was not in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. No internet to search for things at that time, but later I discovered it was at MoMA in NYC. I, too, was surprised at the size, having expected it to be very large. But it was a small gem of a painting and I stood there looking at it for as long as I could, all the time with Don McLean’s “Vincent” running through my head.

    1. Thank you Laurie for mentioning Don McLean’s song. I could’nt for the life of me remember who did it.
      It was to me a hit just like the painting is to a lot of people. Is that the same man who did “If You’re Going to San Francisco”?

  9. Van Gogh’s story and art always moves my heart. I have seen a number of his originals and appreciate their brushwork and abstraction, but especially Van Gogh’s effort to bring the divine into an everlasting presence to his paintings. I believe it was a unique call of expression, especially that he was able to produce such moving work in such times of tribulation. For me as an artist, I admire his perseverance to bring the world his heartfelt work regardless of it’s “aesthetic consistency” appreciating what he has shared with us to ponder – a life (although short) lived with vibrant passion.

  10. Van Gogh has always been one of my top 5 favorite artists. Seeing his work in person is beyond description for me. I saw Starry Night years ago for the 1st time and numerous times after that. It always takes my breath away. Thanks for the reading suggestions. I’d like to get to know my art hero better.

  11. I first saw a Van Gogh exhibit in 1959 in Boston. My art teacher took a select few 7th graders to the show at the MFA in Boston. How can one not be impressed? Especially by the colors and textures of his paintings. I have read up on him and seen several exhibits since. Because of that, the first time I went to France in 1995, I included a few days in Arles. To my disappointment there were no Van Gogh paintings there. But there was a Van Gogh tribute exhibit. Many artists – painters, writers, musicians had contributed pieces based on his work or life and wrote how they had been influenced by his work and his letters to Theo. I found it very moving that he had such a large and varied following. There wasn’t much mention of him elsewhere in the town.

    In 2017 I returned to Arles. I was amazed to see he how has a museum there. Around town there are many plaques indicating where he did many of his paintings. I painted at some of these locations. One in particular is a scene through a bridge to some houses along the water. In Van Gogh’s there is a little twiggy tree in front of the bridge. In my painting that little tree is now about 18″ in diameter and taller than the bridge. i am happy to have been able to follow in some of his footsteps and paint the same places.

  12. Interesting video. Hearing about the life of VG always sets my mind in motion for provocative introspection – about the artist, his paintings and his place in art history.
    I agree with VG that if not exactly a failure, Starry Night is not one of his best works. I find the paintings he did in the fields with their vibrant yellows, vivid greens and blues, and the tighter brush strokes superior work. But that is only a subjective opinion and cannot be proven by any kind of science. Be that as it may, Starry Night is of value and lifted to prominence by the many paintings VG did around it. One painting does not make an artist. Had Starry Night been the only one of Van Gogh’s paintings to survive my guess it would be collecting dust in some attic or basement or hanging on some wall not in a mansion or tossed in the trash a long time ago.

  13. Without Vincent Van Gogh I never would have become an artist. From studying him as a freshman in College and in imitating some of his paintings and stylistic choices through the years I found my own voice and confidence. I have visited his works in galleries all across the country and the world, and the movie “Vincent” is one of my favorites.

  14. The thing about Starry Night that makes it so profound to me is not the orbs around the stars, which people always talk about, but the most prominent thing in the painting that no one talks about – the giant swirl if stars smack dab in the center – I’m quite certain absolutely no one before him, had ever envisioned the spiraling nature of galaxies, which though he could not possibly have seen, he just correctly intuited – as we are now all aware of, courtesy of the many many photographs of spiral galaxies we have seen from the Hubble telescope – but when he painted this, no one on earth had ever seen a spiral galaxy, or even imagined them, so to me that’s just absolutely brilliant, beyond painting really, more like greatest scientific discoveries. That said, the paintings of Van Gogh I like the best are his portraits, especially his self portraits, which I find to be without peer. To me, he was as great a master of portraiture asTurner was of seascapes.

  15. PS – Regarding of the influence of Starry Night on other artists – I think a huge number of artists have created skies based on Starry Night – I’ve done it myself- not with the sky exactly, but with a depiction of a moonlit ocean where the waves are made up of the same sort of dashed lines Van Gogh uses for his sky, and of course I therefore had to include “Starry Night” in the title — “A Shark in a Swell in the Ocean on a Starry Night” – here’s as link to one of the versions in my Fine Art America portfolio –


  16. I have not seen this painting but would love to. I have always wondered why this painting has captivated so many people and why it fascinates the art world. The swirls in the sky appeal to our “imaginative” brain– what was Van Gogh trying to convey — or was he simply enjoying the the “putting down of paint” and the free expression it allowed. Was he thinking about the “style” or was he simply being expressive with his brush work.

  17. I stumbled upon this post while searching for images of Vincent’s paintings -particularly the starry night- to show my child son. I was trying to explain to him how fortunate he was to have seen in person the places and landscapes depicted in many of Van Gogh’s paintings (specifically those around Vincent’s asylum). After that little talk with him I decided to listen to the post and now I write to share my experience: when I had the chance to see it face to face, suddenly tears ran down my cheeks. It’s deeply moving, it’s special in a sense I can’t explain. I still find it touching, can’t still say why. Thank you for this most interesting post and keep the good job.

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