When I first saw the painting Starry Night Over the Rhone by Vincent van Gogh, I thought it was the most beautiful thing I ever saw; it was on the last New Year’s Eve and I remember being captivated by the magical beauty that allures from the indigo sky sprinkled with golden stars; night in the eyes of van Gogh. Now it is clear to me that that thought was rather impulsive, but still, this painting kept haunting me and here I am, seven month later, thinking of it and writing of it.
This painting, painted in September 1888, shows van Gogh’s interest in nocturnal. Painting at night, however, proved to be a challenge for him, and he put emphasis on capturing the reflections of the gas lamp on the glimmering blue water of the Rhone. Painting this in only two colours; blue and yellow, van Gogh managed to evoke the river waves mingled with the golden light of the street lamps by the Rhone in Arles. Vibrancy and heavy brush strokes are absolutely alluring and magical.
It’s amazing how detailed he is with a brush and what effect he created using only two colours, yet carefully blending them to achieve the enchanting effect of glimmering light and the shadows on the Rhone. Depicting colours was extremely important to him and, in letters to his brother Theo, he used to describe objects in his painting in terms of colours. When depicting day scenes, he used earthy tones, but when painting the nighttime landscapes he used blues which he blended in such a refined way with thick, but small brush strokes. Van Gogh explored the colours and its opportunities in a rather different way than other painters of the time; he focused on one colour and how to get the most shades out of it whilst other Post-Impressionists such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Gauguin explored colours by using as many of them as they could.
Nocturnal atmosphere with its night sky and changing effect of light at night proved to be inspirational for van Gogh, as he painted Cafe Terrace at Night, a few weeks earlier and later another beautiful painting called The Starry Night. Painting The Church at Auvers, painted in June 1890. is also a very good example of van Gogh’s night scenes. The later painting, shown above, is a bit more playful than the previous one that I’ve shown you, and, to me, maybe even more beautiful.
Van Gogh painted The Starry Night in June 1889. when he was staying in a sanatorium in a small town Saint-Remy-de-Provence located in the south of France. The painting depicts the view from his room, and, although it depicts a night scene, it was painted during the day from a memory. What appeals me the most about this painting is the playfulness of the stars; the way they dance in their golden apparel, drawn to the Moon, shining brightly at a small town. The sky is painted in van Gogh’s characteristic thick, relief brush strokes, whilst the vividness and sparkle of the stars is depicted with dashed lines and in that way it literary seems the sky is moving and the stars are actually dancing.
However, van Gogh was not satisfied with the painting, writing his brother Theo ‘The first four canvases are studies without the effect of a whole that the others have . . . The olives with white clouds and background of mountains, also the moonrise and the night effect, these are exaggerations from the point of view of arrangement, their lines are warped as that of old wood.’ Van Gogh was very shy and insecure regarding his work, as were many artists. Little he knew that a hundred years later people will be admiring and studying his art. In an episode of Doctor Who, the doctor traveled to past and met, well, who other than van Gogh and after spending some time with him, the doctor took him to present day gallery. After van Gogh saw his paintings and the popularity of them, tears of joy came down his cheek. I confess it made me cry from happiness too.
1888. Cafe Terrace at Night
Vincent van Gogh entered the asylum at Saint-Remy in May 1889. Despite his numerous nervous breakdowns, his time there proved to be the most productive time of his entire life having painted the most of his paintings two years before his death. Painting The Starry Night is a result of his fascination with the nocturnal and also of his observation of the beautiful landscapes surrounding the asylum.
In early 1890. van Gogh suffered yet another crisis, his life now consisting of fits of despair and hallucination during which he could not work and long, clear and productive months between them in which he could and did paint, driven by extreme visionary ecstasy. One of his last paintings, possibly the very last, Wheatfield with crows, painted the same month he died, is a dramatic landscape that depicts dark, cloudy and troubled sky filled with crows over a wheatfield. The painting shows a sense of isolation, uncertainty, sorrow and a sense of his life coming to an end. Van Gogh was falling deeper and deeper in his despair and misery, writing to his brother about the later painting ‘I did not have to go out of my way very much in order to try to express sadness and extreme loneliness.’ However, he added ‘I’m fairly sure that these canvases will tell you what I cannot say in words, that is, how healthy and invigorating I find the countryside.’
On July 27th 1890. van Gogh shoot himself and died due to an untreated infection less than two days later. As he was lying on his death bed, this man, at the peak of his creativity, at the peak of his artistic life and already facing the end of it; end of the life already rife with sad events, whispered his last words to Theo, his brother and a faithful companion to the end, ‘La Tristesse Durera’ meaning ‘The sadness will last forever.’ At the peak of summer Van Gogh had finally succumbed to the sadness.
Theo’s health deteriorated in the months following Vincent’s death and in January 1891. he died, succumbing to the desperate sadness of reality, finally joining his beloved brother.