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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfSHCmcc9Vc&t=37s

Ted Ed van Gogh turbulence video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMerSm2ToFY

 

Parts of this video were scripted from:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Starry_Night

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_van_Gogh

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.

17 Comments

  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.

  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:

    https://vimeo.com/433654225

    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.

  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.

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