Netherlands | Art | Biography

Van Gogh's 'The Starry Night'

27 April 2020

A biography of Van Gogh's life told through a world-famous painting

The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh


  In 1889, the now famous Dutch painter Van Gogh finished The Stary Night. It is an iconic impressionist painting that currently resides in the Museum of Modern Art (New York).

Van Gogh

  Nowadays, Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90) is world famous. But, at the time, the painter was struggeling to say the least. From an early age he was rejected by those he loved: his parents favoured his brother. Later on his sweethearts either rejected or left him.

  Despite all this, he sought to do good to the world. An example below:

After stuyding Theology, Van Gogh moved to Brussels. There, he applied to goodwill- and evangelic projects. He gave most of his belongings to the poor laborers he preached for.

  While the church rejected Van Gogh's close contact with laymen, he was wholly commited to them - and his art reflects it. It seems that Van Gogh sought to portray the poor man's perspective in his paintings. While our featured painting 'The Starry Night' is colorful, Van Gogh's early work is typically dark and centered around laborers and poor people.

The Starry Night

The Scream of Nature illustrates how emotions typify the impressionist movement.

  How does 'The Starry Night' fit into Van Gogh's story then? The painting derives from Van Gogh's later inspiration by impressionism, a movement marked by exaggerated colors- and reality.

  Impressionist artists conveyed how subjects made them feel and added that emotion to the painting. A good example would be The Scream of Nature by Harry Munch (1893).

  Letters made it clear that Van Gogh wasn't pleased with The Starry Night, but Van Gogh would continue with his impressionist style.

Impressionism is to paint what you feel, not - plainly - what you see.

  Around 1887 and close to his death, Van Gogh became inspired by the artstyle of Japanese woodblock prints. He recreated works by artists such as Hiroshige (known for 'The Wave') and Eisen.


  Roughly 80 years after The Starry Night was finished, American singer Don McLean wrote a world-famous song about it. Whereas the song is called 'Vincent', people mostly know it by its opening line: 'Starry Starry Night'. It vocalizes Van Gogh's tough life and is a deserving end to this article. In different versions of the song, Don McLean varies its speed. Below is a (more modern) cover of the song, but you may find a version of the original here.

Useful resources

Selection of Museums hosting Van Gogh

  • Museum of Modern Art - New York (location of The Starry Night)
  • Museum of Fine Arts - Boston
  • Portland Art Museum - Portland
  • Van Gogh Museum - Amsterdam
  • Kröller Müller - Otterlo (surprisingly large collection of Van Goghs)
  • National Gallery - London
  • Museum of John Paul II - Warsaw
  • Morohashi Museum of Modern Art - Kitashiobara