Starry Night

Starry Night is, by far, the most popular painting by the 19th century Dutch post-impressionist painter Van Gogh. It was his magnum opus — his most important work — as later judged by observers. Van Gogh himself, however, thought the painting was a failure. But Starry Night would be the painting that the world would associate with the illustrious name Vincent Van Gogh.

But there is another well-known painting named Starry Night, namely, Starry Night Over the Rhône, which one shouldn’t confuse with the Starry Night. Van Gogh painted Starry Night Over the Rhône (September 1888) at Arles, less than a year before he painted Starry Night (June 1889) while confined at the Saint Paul De Mausole after he had cut off his ear. Starry Night Over the Rhône gives us a backdrop as to the nocturnal (night time) painting style Van Gogh had been experimenting on at the time.

He wrote to his younger brother, Theo, his financial backer, about Starry Night Over the Rhône in this manner,

“The sky is green-blue, the water is royal blue… The town is blue and violet. The gaslight is yellow, and its reflections are red-gold and go right down to green-bronze… Against the green-blue field of the sky the Great Bear had a green and pink sparkle whose discreet paleness contrasts with the harsh gold of the gaslight.”

Van Gogh was a prodigious artist who keenly understood the relationship of colors, shades, and contrasts to convey his messages. Messages that lodged deep in his thoughts.

Four things meet the eye outright in Starry Night, among other finer details. One, the most obvious, the orbs and swirls — the starry night itself. Two, the color contrasts; because it is a nocturnal painting, the contrast of yellow and harsh gold against the dark backdrop of blue to violet immediately catches the attention. Three, the spires of the dominant Cypress tree on the left foreground, and that of the church steeple at the center — both touch the heavens above. And lastly, the silent neighbourhood or countryside community with houses, olive groves, and cascading hills.

Amidst the mundane affairs of daily existence in ones community, there is a nature (a cypress tree shaped like a flaming fire) that reaches to the skies; and a religion (a church with a spire) that prompts one’s soul to search beyond natural, physical existence for meaning. However, there is a palpable uncertainty and foreboding judgment revealed in the heavens. Thus, there is no real assurance; but an ongoing perpetual turmoil of a troubled soul.

As Van Gogh wrote to Theo his brother regarding Starry Night, “We take death to go to a star.”

Top 10 Favourite Movies on Artists and Paintings

Top 10 Favourite Movies on Artists and Paintings

We often find artists, their paintings and works of art, in galleries and museums. But there have been wonderful and worthwhile movies made about them, their personal lives and works of art.

Here is our Top 10 Favourite Movies on Artists and Paintings:

  1. Camille Claudel (1989). The film captures the artist’s inner struggles through her bold sculptures. Camille Claudel was an independent minded artists of the late 19th century in Paris, who became a mistress of renowned sculptor Auguste Rodin (his famous sculpture, The Thinker).
  1. 2. Vincent & Theo (1990). This is a story of Van Gogh’s brief history, how he made his art, and the person who was (as it’s said) “the wind beneath his wings”, his younger brother Theo.
  2. 3. Basquiat (1996). An American graffiti artist who became popular in the 1980’s using the name SAMO. Jean-Michel Basquiat was half-Haitian, half-Puerto Rican by race. His wall graffiti was vivid, lively, and detailed, and became highly prized by art collectors.
  3. 4. Surviving Picasso (1996). Pablo Picasso’s name is most often associated to cubism, an abstract art form where reality is seen relatively. But he was also known to be a womanizer, because women were strongly attracted to him. The film exploits this.
  4. 5. Pollock (2001). Excellent story about the troubled life and skilful workmanship of American post-war abstract impressionist Jackson Pollock, how he met his wife Lee Krasner, and how she changed the future for him.
  5. 6. Frida (2002). The movie revolves around the relationships that Mexican artist Frida Kahlo works herself into, especially her affair and marriage to the famed muralist Diego Rivera. After she survived a trolley accident that almost killed her, she lives in pain and finds relief in her art.
  6. 7. Girl With A Pearl Earring (2003). This 16 year old girl, Griet, appears in Johannes Vermeer’s 17th century painting Girl with a Pearl Earring. She was hired as a maid by the artist to care for his 6 children. The earring’s however belonged to Vermeer’s wife, who suspects that Vermeer was having an affair with the girl.
  7. 8. Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010). This is the work of graffiti artist Bansky on video tapes filmed by Frenchman Thierry Guetta. A documentary type film that takes the viewer to the illegal art world of vandals and political activists.
  8. 9. Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present (2012). This documentary highlights the unconventional art of Abramovic. She is a warm person, and a seriously gifted and inventive artist.
  9. 10. Mr. Turner (2014). A biography of Cockney landscape painter, J.M.W. Turner. He was known as a “painter of lights” and belonged to the school of Romantics.

Why Did Van Gogh Cut Off His Ear?!

You may have heard the story. Any art student or Van Gogh enthusiast would know it — Van Gogh cut off his own ear.

There are a number of theories about what really happened on that dreadful night of December 23, 1888. But the singular fact remains: Vincent Van Gogh cut off his ear.

The Official Story

Paul Gauguin was staying with Van Gogh at the (now) famous Yellow House (Van Gogh has a painting “The Yellow House” and “The Bedroom” which was in the yellow house) in Arles, France. Gauguin and Van Gogh were friends, but they had their differences. And it was not unusual that they quarrelled about their differences.

On the night of December 23, 1888, after a quarrel, Gauguin threatened to leave Van Gogh. He bolted out of the house. Van Gogh followed him outside with a sharp razor in his hand, intending to do harm to Gauguin. However, midway, he changed his mind and went back to the yellow house. There, upset, he cut off his own ear. Later, he gave it to a maid (prostitute) working at the nearby brothel that he frequented.

The following morning, December 24, police found him in the yellow house unconscious and weak from the loss of blood, and took him to the hospital. Gauguin flees to Paris.

A few months after the incident, in May 1889, Van Gogh was confined to a mental asylum, Saint Paul De Mausole, where he stayed for a year and continued painting.

Other Theories

The first among the other theories suggests that Van Gogh didn’t cut off his entire ear, but just the ear lobe. There is no definitive proof however that supports either theory. Nonetheless, it was his ear that he cut off, whether entirely or in part.

Another theory focuses on the reason why Van Gogh cut off his ear: not because of a quarrel with Gauguin, but because of his brother Theo’s engagement to be married. Van Gogh scholar Martin Bailey speculates that upon hearing of his brother Theo’s engagement, Van Gogh became desperate. It was Theo who was supporting him financially, and he felt that Theo’s engagement would tantamount to diminished financial support for himself, which he badly needed.

Lastly, in a book “Pact of Silence” (2009), authors Kaufmann and Wildegans posited that it was Gauguin who did it. However, they did not provide clear evidence to support their theory.

Van Gogh: Human, After All