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!

      1. I tried that puzzle as well and had to admit defeat 4/5 of the way through, especially as I spent a half day and only managed to insert one piece in the remaining straight line bits! It was the most challenging task ever! Well done, you!

  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.

    1. Collectors have certainly made money on van Gogh’s work, but it may make you feel better to know that van Gogh, widow, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, made it, her life’s work to build van Gogh’s reputation. She did that, partly by selling work, but she also kept the large collection which ultimately became the core of the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. I was there in the spring, and it was a great experience, especially the Hall showing the evolution of van Gogh’s self-portraits.

  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.

  18. Van Gogh is, and I think always will be, my favorite artist. His emotional struggles seem to flow from his work. Stary Night is one I could look at for hours and still enjoy seeing time and again. While I’ve not had the privilege of seeing this work in person, I was able in 2022 to view the Van Gogh Exhibition that went around the US. This unique way of viewing his works and hearing about his struggles and desires brought a new interest to my mind to delve deeper. To see his works in person would be fantastic, quite an experience to remember. Thank you, Jason for this presentation.

  19. One of my favorite paintings! What a surprise it was to stumble upon it at the MOMA while visiting NYC last year. There was such a crowd around it, that it was hard to get much time to view it though.
    I would also recommend the film “Loving Vincent”. One of my all time favorite art films. Thank you for this post!

  20. Ok, I haven’t seen it, and I (therefore?) don’t get it. Carol, just above, has the same confusion. Lots of comments and emotion but few comments seem to point out exactly what the painting accomplishes or “does” to/for the viewer. Other than, Oh I like this! Even the comments regarding its size indicate that perhaps the appreciation of the painting is built into our imagination, and it seems we “imagine it” to be bigger!

    This comment  “It’s deeply moving, it’s special in a sense I can’t explain” says a lot about he viewer, but not a lot about the painting. Is it “special”, or did someone tell you that? This comment, “ the giant swirl of stars smack dab in the center – I’m quite certain absolutely no one before him, had ever envisioned the spiraling nature of galaxies,” is completely subjective, and there is no real basis for making that assumption.

    I think we are taught/trained/ directed by others to bring with us a certain idealized appreciation of various created objects ( and particular paintings). Or we bring our creative subjectivity to it, and find or create some aspect we like ( intended by the artist or not).

    Gallery owners probably first keep their mouth shut, and hope that a particular piece of art over-whelms a potential buyer. They don’t really care what you find or why you like it, they just want a purchase.

    I think the the importance of Van Gogh is in his personal history, struggle with mental illness, and his being driven toward his vocation, as Stephen C suggests. But then, I haven’t seen it in person.

    1. I agree with you some people are attracted to Van Gogh because they are told he’s great. Or any artist for that matter. That’s a certain type of person . With a very analytical way of viewing the world.

      For others it’s emotional response to his work. For me personally it ‘s an emotional response.
      This is my reason for loving Van Gogh.

      First it’s his use of pure strong color. To me it conveys an intense love of the beauty of the world around us. The purist most vital aspects of what he is painting.

      Second it’s his use of his bold and “wiggly “ brush strokes. Again,, to me, it’s like the energy or life force that vibrates in everything is being depicted..

      I know Van Gogh had a tragic life but I see in his paintings an unsurpassed intensity and in most paintings joyous observation of the life force that’s invisible but in everything.

      It’s like he has stripped away a veil and gotten to the heart of our world.

      It hits me in the heart, the gut and the soul.

  21. I replied earlier about seeing his work in the 50’s in Boston and the Van Gogh tribute show in Arles in the 90s . My fascination didn’t end. In 2022 I went to Amsterdam to see the museum. Unfortunately didn’t know how to pull up my ticket on the IPhone and was not allowed in as there were no tickets at the door. Twice, including last summer I have been to St Paul Asylum and St Remy where he did lots of his paintings. A very inspiring place to paint.

  22. Jason,

    I mentioned in an email about 6 months ago that we were going to France. We drove from where we were staying in L’isle sur la Sorge to St.Remy. We arrived on a there and got to see some of the town. We picked up the Van Gogh walking trail and followed it out to the Monastery. I am sure that the stops were related to where many of the painting were done en plein air. It was much warmer than it was supposed to be. But we did make it there. I walked up upon a group of American Artists there on a Workshop! I took many photos along the whole walk and in the olive groves there. Another American couple “rescued us” offering a ride back. We were all overheated and did not venture in sadly.

    The trip started in Paris. We did the big 3 museums. I saw many of his works. Gobsmacked with art, I can not say that I saw it for certain….. but likely? I took 1070 pictures over the month long trip to France. Art was everywhere. Simply amazing.

    Here is a link to the “Post Cards from Paris & France” on my Substack bulletin board page. It is free. You are invited to sign up but not required. There are many photos from France.

  23. You mention two books about Van Gogh. One that I found fascinating and perhaps changed my life is Letters To Theo. The passion about life and about his art is beyond powerful — he was, at times, brilliant with words. The mental illness certainly peeks out as he seemed to go way overboard, and reminds me of myself becoming narcissistic in believing I am making something wonderful. In his case he was — and I am just delusional. I think most artists have a hint of this for which he was overwelmed.

  24. I never saw the work in person but seeing a good photographical representation I get the emotional feeling of turbulence. I feel he was suffering mentally and his work specifically Starry Night is an extension of his illness. I can see where he thought it was a failure. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t live today where he would have received the care he needed. Great presentation.

  25. I have seen his art in many museums and appreciate his brilliant way of artistic expression. To create such incredible art, he must have lived and created from a different dimension of consciousness, which was far beyond that of the time.

    Inspired by Starry Night, I created a mosaic for a countertop, which measured about 6’x 3′ out of broken china, beads, and glass pieces. It not only brought me joy, but also created wonder and appreciation for his art from the many people who saw my mosaic. (I have to say, I would not have created such an art piece if it had not been for my cat who jumped onto a shelf, causing a box containing the collection of my grandmother’s china cups and saucers to crash to the floor and break into pieces. I wanted to make them into something unique, and so it was.)

    Thanks for all you teach us through this wonderful site. I have invited many artists to join you here.

  26. Vincent Van Gogh was only 37 years old when he died. So young, so promising. One wonders what he might have accomplished had he lived longer. Any Van Gogh lover should make the attempt to see the museum established for his work in Amsterdam. And read the 3 Volumes of his correspondence with his brother Theo, which are illuminating. He was brilliant, but also self-righteous. Perhaps that quality stood him in good stead as he broke artistic boundaries, but it left him solitary, also. Even his friendship with Gauguin went by the wayside. A troubled, brilliant artist. I have seen many of his works in museums all over the world. They are notable for their vigor, for their unique characteristics, for the clear determination of the artist to express a vision unlike that of any artist before or since. Everyone focuses on his other work, but his 36 self-portraits are honest and revealing, especially viewed in sequence.

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