What makes this painting famous?
The Starry Night is likely to be at the top of anyone’s list when it comes to naming Van Gogh’s most famous artworks. You’ll find it on posters, novelty socks, tote bags, computer backgrounds, tattooed arms – you name it. You’ll also find it on the walls of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where it acts as one of the museum’s biggest attention-grabbers (which is really saying a lot, considering the amount of other amazing paintings present in MoMA’s collection).
The Starry Night is not just one of Van Gogh’s most popular paintings; it’s one of the most iconic works of art in existence. Its spectacular swirling night sky, filled with expressionist-style spirals, continues to draw a strong emotional response from viewers to this day.
What’s the background story?
While this post is about famous Van Gogh paintings and not a biography of the artist himself, his life can’t be ignored when writing about his art. Van Gogh voluntarily checked himself into the mental asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in 1889, a few months after the infamous episode in which he mutilated his left ear. This painting was based on the view from his window at the asylum.
Some art critics theorize that the painting was created in an agitated state, reflected in the almost hallucinatory nature of the work and potentially backed up by the fact that Van Gogh experienced a second breakdown only a month after The Starry Night was completed.
Despite it now being regarded as one of history’s most valuable artworks, Van Gogh seems to have personally regarded this painting as an unsuccessful experiment. It was only briefly mentioned in a letter to his brother Theo as a “night study”, several months after it was already painted. He later decided not to send the painting over to the Netherlands (stating that he vastly preferred other works), and eventually labelled his masterpiece as a “failure” in a letter to fellow painter Émile Bernard.
Where is The Starry Night?
The Museum of Modern Art, New York.