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.

18 Comments

  1. I have been awed and inspired by Van Gogh since I studied his work as a freshman in college. Over the years he has influenced many of my paintings. Several may be found on my website, 1-phil-strang.pixels.com. Thanks.

  2. My husband and I went on self directed residencies for 6 months in Amsterdam. We saw as much art as we could. The Dutch have a system where you buy a very cheap one year membership and you get to go into pretty much every museum in Holland free with your card. We went to see Van Gogh a lot. We are not painters but standing in front of Starry Night and all the others including our favourites the Japanese influenced paintings rocked us to the core. Beautiful thick colourful paint, movement and some with a sense of peace. Everyone should see some of his paintings live. Thanks for great video.

  3. I loved this moment of art history. Van Gogh was absolutely singular. I went to a Van Gogh exhibit at the Denver Art Museum and was brought to tears in the last room where his later works were shown.

    I think his death was a case of man slaughter. He was still out painting and living. The man lived to paint. There was little evidence that it was suicide. Holding a firearm at that awkward angle at a distance with either hand doesn’t make sense. If he wanted to take himself out, he would have stayed in his room and put the gun to his head. A person wouldn’t walk several miles with their painting supplies, shoot themselves in an impossibly awkward manner in the abdomen, avoiding major organs, and then walk all the way back to their room and leave the weapon and paint supplies behind. They wouldn’t shoot themselves in a way where the wound would fester for days causing undo suffering. I think he wanted to protect the kid(s) who accidentally shot him. Or, maybe, he never got a look at who shot him. The bullet could have come out of the brush, put Van Gogh down, the shooter ran, and Van Gogh made his way back to his room. The speculation about René Secrétan, his obsession with wild west enactment, and the erratic discharge of the pistol makes more sense as does the relentless bullying of Van Gogh on the part of the teenage boys in the area.

    I’ve never seen starry night in person. On a scale 0-10, I think Van Gogh was a 9.5 empath. His empathic nature was so strong that he connected with the energies and forces of nature on a level that most people can’t understand. He saw and felt energies and turbulence that others didn’t pick up on. Physics? Oh, yes, physics. I think he was aware of the quantum level and had no words to put to it, so he put it in paint. Why would it be so out of the realm of reality for a person’s brain to be heavily wired to have a heightened sense of the quantum level? Einstein had it. Look at some of the high chroma and brush strokes Van Gogh used. If he didn’t have an enhanced connection to light, then who ever has? I would imagine that this connection waxed and waned with his brain chemistry. And we don’t know if he wasn’t affected by some of the toxins in the paint and solvents he used.

    I think it’s exceptionally sad and short-sighted that he questioned himself so much and did not receive more support. He might have produced more paintings in the style of Starry Night instead of taming it down to meet others’ expectations.

  4. I am shortsighted and didn’t get glasses until I was 12. The halos around the stars are very close to what I saw looking at any bright lights. I love this painting.

  5. I haven’t seen Starry Night but i did see the “Studio of the South” when it was in Chicago. What is Van Gogh to me? I know the stories, his fragility, and also the impossibility of his paintings.
    We blithely state that his paintings are “alla prima” (all first). And so I leaned as far as I could over the barriers to see in detail those brushstrokes. They may lay into other strokes but never a correction. I still cannot fathom that. And the amount of painting in such a short time.. Separate out the earlier studies, etc. and leave just the last three years. But even more- we have to realize that it is a miracle of will that we hve any Van Gogh paintings at all. Within six months of Vincent’s death, Theo died. Theo had virtually all of the paintings.
    So, there were two paintings of chairs in the show I saw. There was van Gogh’s painting of Gauguin’s chair, with books and a candle, a chair worthy of a master (It’s how Vincent saw Gauguin) the last painting in the show was by Gauguin (one of his last). It was a smallish painting of a cane chair with a sunflower on it. And I sobbed. (I have tears now). Because Qauguin stated that that the time with Vincent was the happiest of his whole life. And the painting pays homage to Vincent not only with the sunflower but the brushstrokes he used.
    This is long but you touched a deep nerve.

  6. I really enjoy your Moment in Art History videos. Thank you. Yes, I have seen Van Gogh’s The Starry Night in person and was in awe of it. The Art Institute in Chicago many years ago held and exhibit including many of Van Gogh’s paintings that I was fortunate to attend. In fact, seeing many of his artworks in person changed my perception and appreciation of him as an artist. Having only seen his works in photos prior to that I was never that impressed. Seeing his brushwork and colors in person changed everything. After that I make effort to see art work in person as often as I’m able.

  7. I have seen Starry Night, and as with all of his work, it stands out in the gallery. One of the best moments was was in the Vatican galleries. At one of last rooms and rather hard to find was his crucifixion, small, but it just stood out from two rooms before. Immediately knew it was a VanGogh a small jewel of a painting. Who knew the Vatican would have one and hide it in an obscure room. Beautiful.

  8. Jason,
    Thank you for the education. It is always sad to me that an artist never receives recognition until after their death. If Van Gogh had received praise and financial stability from the sales of his art his mental health may have not been such a devastating factor in his life. My interpretation of “Starry Night” is Van Gogh is making the wind and radiating of the stars visible. Comparable to braille for the blind.

  9. I was able to see the Van Gogh & Japan exhibit at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam a couple years ago. I had been unaware of how influenced he was by Japanese woodblock prints and that some are depicted in the backgrounds of some of his portraits! The more I learn about him, the more fascinating his life and work become. I’m going to get a copy of The Yellow House – thanks for the recommendation!

  10. I saw Starry Night in person at MOMA in NYC. It was a graced moment. What also impressed me was the number of young people who spent what seemed to be many spellbound moments before Starry Night. I’ve read Van Gogh biographies, and his letters to Theodore. Also took a short course from a Van Gogh scholar where I learned much about his personal life which was touched by tragedy. It is to his sister-in-law that we owe our thanks for preserving Van Gogh’s paintings after Theo’s death. Looking forward to reading The Yellow House.

  11. Thanks so much for your “Moments in Art History” they are very informative. I’ve never seen Starry Night in person but I am fascinated by the movement of the sky, reminds me of the sky during a hurricane here in Florida. I’ve read several books about Van Gogh and his letters to Theo. I also am looking forward to getting a copy of The Yellow House to read.

  12. Thank you, Jason, for doing these “Moments in Art History”. As always, your presentation was engaging and well done. The fact that Van Gogh thought “Starry Night” was a failure is encouraging to me as an artist. It means even Van Gogh second guessed himself, was very critical of his work and apparently didn’t throw away his failures. I’ve had a similar experience setting aside a painting, thinking it was so-so but then entering an exhibition with it and winning Best of Show. I’ve heard musicians have the same experience, getting wonderful audience reaction for songs they thought were just “okay”. The moral of this story is DON’T throw your art away!

  13. I’m sorry to say this but I’ve looked at this painting of swirling clouds and nothing in the painting inspires me to say that the composition is inspirational. It doesn’t intrigue me or carry me to outer space.
    I prefer his self portrait with his hat on. I love the painterly linework around his face and mustache. I absolutely love and adore the facial struggle of the composition. Every time I look at this portrait it seems to me that he’s crying for help. The only thing I could say about Starry Night is that I appreciate his effort to introduce a new nocturnal idea.

  14. Hi Jason. I just finished watching your “Moment in Art history”. It seems that Van Gogh’s works and life have become more popular than ever. In September I decided to challenge myself in spades. So I took an internet photo of Starry Night and flipped the image on my computer. From there, I substituted Vincent’s mountains with our own 3 Sisters mountains looking out my back yard. It took several afternoons to complete the painting and it was totally freehand. I am so happy with the results. I must admit to selling it and having many art cards made. The tourists in our area really like them. If you are interested in seeing how I have honoured Van Gogh, see my painting at: https://looseygooseyartist.com/artwork/4812769-3-Sisters-Starry-Starry-Night.html

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