Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Starry Night over the Rhone- Vincent van Gogh

Artwork: Starry Night over the Rhone (La nuit etoilee)

Artist: Vincent van Gogh

Date: 1888

Size: 72.5 x 92.0 cm


Make a general statement or introduction to the work:

Van Gogh’s arrived in Arles in February 1888. In this small Provençal town and the surrounding countryside he was to spend an extraordinarily productive period painting, drawing and writing. Van Gogh created the artwork while on the river banks. The spot where he painted it was close to a house he was renting at the time. The view that the observer sees are the houses from the east side of the Rhone in the evening. His work, ‘Starry Night’ is oil on canvas and features strong, definitive brush strokes with use of broken colour. Van Gogh preferred painting outdoors and was fascinated by the night sky and the effects of light at night, one of his favorite subjects.

What can you see?
What stands out the most in the ‘Starry Night over the Rhone’ painting is the gas lighting reflecting off the water as a couple strolls nearby in the foreground of the painting. This work reveals all the marvelous colours of the sky, the reflections of the scene and the striking contrast between the natural beauty of the stars and the artificial gas lights. the street lanterns along the water's edge of the Rhône shed enough light to enable Van Gogh to paint from direct observation. Even so, Van Gogh manipulated reality to a certain degree in order to create an even more impressive firmament. From his point of view the town of Arles lay to the south west; the constellation of the Great Bear (Big Dipper) that he painted in the sky was actually in the north (behind him).


Structural Frame

The media that the artist uses are oil on canvas and the technique is broad and weeping brush strokes. In a letter to his sister Wilhelmina, Van Gogh wrote, "At present I absolutely want to paint a starry sky. It often seems to me that night is still more richly coloured than the day; having hues of the most intense violets, blues and greens. If only you pay attention to it you will see that certain stars are lemon-yellow, others pink or a green, blue and forget-me-not brilliance. And without my expatiating on this theme it is obvious that putting little white dots on the blue-black is not enough to paint a starry sky." Some believe there is a hidden image depicting the Gate to Heaven and two coffins in front of it- which seems relevant considering he was a very religious person.

How has the artwork been composed or organised?

Van Gogh used the symbolic and expressive values of colours for expressing emotions for the reproduction of visual appearances, atmosphere, or light. Vincent Van Gogh painted the immense night sky hanging over a gas-lit town with reflections in the water. He jokingly confides to his sister that “Of course it’s true that in the dark I may mistake blue for green, a blue-lilac for a pink lilac, for you cannot rightly distinguish the quality of a hue. But it is the only way to get rid of the conventional night scenes with their poor pale whitish light” The artwork reflects the need of a desperate man for hope in the middle of the "black night". Starry Night seems to be a fight between a man and his anxiety.

Is there a recognisable style?
He was determined to capture the richness of the night colours on the spot.

Is this unique to the artist?

In letters to his brother, Theo, he described the importance to capture the sparkling colours of the night sky and the artificial lighting that was new to this time in history. Van Gogh painted several canvases of the night skies as an accompaniment to a café scene or portrait.


Structural Frame- signs and symbols:

The bold rendering of the sky brings to mind a fireworks display, which makes this piece (along with the luminous reflections in the water) very exciting and beautiful.  The spirited strokes, the lively colours of the stars contrasting against the dark blues and of the night reflect his scream for hope, light and love.

Is the artwork exploring a particular theme or idea?

By 1888, Van Gogh had long abandoned social realism. But even when, under the combined influence of Gauguin and Japanese woodcuts, he lays on thick strong colour with broad, extensive brushstrokes, he keeps returning to his Barbizon roots.

What do you think the artwork means?

Van Gogh hardly represented objects in their full resemblance, but he says he prefers to express through colour. It is precisely what we see in a starry night, an explosion of heavy brush strokes with an exaggerated perceptual depth. Vincent was a highly religious person, but had a very explosive and obsessive personality. There's a real mood of movement in the painting - the strong strokes and colour definition keeps the viewer's eye moving almost constantly. Some see this as a reflection of his inner torment. Whether or not this is true, what is unavoidable is the remarkable sense of energy in the brushstrokes and application of paint. Van Gogh went far beyond a scientific depiction by expanding the size and luminosity of the stars, combining different viewpoints, and adding a pair of strolling lovers and reflected lights below. This painting shows why Van Gogh abandoned the Impressionist aesthetic which was indifferent to any deeper understanding of nature and to a human emotional-spiritual response.

Can you recognise influences from other artists or periods?

Possibly one of the greatest artistic influences on Vincent van Gogh was Paul Gauguin. When in Arles, Vincent wanted fellow artists to work with him in his ‘Studio of the South’. He invited Emile Bernard and Paul Gauguin.  Gauguin and Van Gogh worked together, however, many arguments occurred. In a fit of insanity, he chased Gauguin with a razor/knife and threatened him. Later that day Van Gogh returned to their house and cut off a piece of his ear lobe then offered it to a prostitute as a gift. Gauguin swiftly left Arles for Paris.  After the two parted, Van Gogh began to use Gauguin's technique of painting from memory. This caused his paintings to become more decorative and less realistic. He was also influenced by the spellbinding and significance of the scenes found in Japanese Ukiyo-e prints. Van Gogh was a huge follower of Jean-Francois Millets work and the French artist painted a variety of nocturnal landscape paintings. The arrangement and lighting depicted in Millets own Nuit Etoilée (Starry Night) is similar to Van Gogh's version and its possible that Van Gogh saw Millets painting in Paris between 1873-75. His love of Millets work was well-known and while in the asylum at Saint-Rémy, Van Gogh produced 21 copies of Millet's works which shows not only his respect for the artist but also his own commitment to developing his individual technique.

How does it relate to the period/style of Modernism (Post Impressionism)?

Impressionism recorded nature in terms of light and colour. Post impressionists rejected these limitations and instead sought to be more expressive. They were not concerned with depicting the effects of light and other visual effects like those seen in the impressionism movement, they were less serene. They wanted to express their meaning beyond the surface appearance; they painted with emotion, intellect, and the eye. The post-impressionism painters stressed their personal view of the visual world and had a freely expressive use of colour and form to describe emotions and movement.


How does the artwork relate to the period?

Post-Impressionism aimed to attain more form and structure, as well as more expression and emotion into their paintings. Van Gogh’s tortured soul is juxtaposed against the bright stars seen in the featured artwork.

How does it relate to other artworks you have analysed?

The theme of evening and night time landscapes was very popular and it was heavily characterised within the Barbizon School that Van Gogh liked and, in his early career, resembled. The artist’s attraction to the heavens and stars inspired some of his most famous paintings, including Cafe Terrace at Night and Starry Night over the Rhone. He was also a fan of the artificial lighting technique that started at this time.

Subjective Frame

Van Gogh leaves behind the Impressionist principle of truth to nature in favor of restless feeling and intense colour.'The striking, bold, intense colours, the emphatic brushwork, and contoured forms of his work are highly expressive, even emotional. A glimmering of pink and green on the cobalt blue of the night sky, whereas the town lights and its rigid reflections show red-gold and bronzed green colour combinations.

Do you think it is a good artwork?  Why?

Yes- The way Van Gogh pairs the colours, I believe, are an attempt to visually express the “vibrations” he felt in his soul. Van Gogh (and many artists) tried to capture a profound beauty by trying to get something on canvas that at least alluded this visually. I think the lines and the visible brushstrokes are part of that, too. The sometimes swirling, burbling, vibrating, or jabbing lines are meant to say, “This is how my heart feels”

For me, approaching a Van Gogh painting in that way provokes strong emotional responses. Vincent van Gogh surely understood the emotional power of his paintings. The first reason I say this is that if they affect me so powerfully, it’s hard to imagine that it’s all by accident. The second, perhaps more reliable basis for this is that van Gogh’s own writings make it clear that he painted with the emotional impact in mind. Surely no one can experience a masterpiece as deeply and personally as the artist? Surely van Gogh must have experienced each of these works more intensely and more thoroughly than we are able to. His passion and depth is expressed onto his artworks therefore proving to be wondrous paintings.


" Artistic Influences on Vincent van Gogh." Vincent van Gogh Gallery - Welcome!. Van Gogh Gallery, n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2012. <http://www.vangoghgallery.com/influences/>.

"Analysis of Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night ." Life of Van Gogh. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2012. <http://www.lifeofvangogh.com/analysis-starry-night.html>.

Bruno, Dillan. "What is Post-Impressionism." Art in the Picture. brunodillen, n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2012. < http://www.artinthepicture.com/styles/Post-Impressionism/>.

"Starry Night over the Rhone." Canvas Art. Lazy Birdy, n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2012. <http://www.lazybirdy.com.au/Shop/tabid/62/mode/details/pid/15/cid/2/Default.aspx>.

"Van Gogh Museum - Poetry of the night: The starry night over the Rhône." Van Gogh Museum - (Her)ontdek de werken van Vincent van Gogh. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2012. <http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/vgm/index.jsp?page=179325&lang=en>.

"Vincent van Gogh Art. Wallpapers. Paintings. Pictures.." MoodBook. Mood Book, n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2012. <http://www.moodbook.com/art/vincent-van-gogh.html>.

"Post-Impressionism." ThinkQuest : Library. Think Quest, n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2012. <http://library.thinkquest.org/C0118063/time/postimp.htm>.

"Vincent van Gogh - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_van

Bolton, Linda. Post-impressionists. Oxford: Heinemann Library, 2002. Print.

Butler, Adam, Claire Cleave, and Susan Stirling. The art book. London: Phaidon, 1994. Print.

Cogeval, Guy, Sylvie Patry, and Stéphane Guégan. Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, and beyond: post-impressionist masterpieces from the Musée d'Orsay. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco ;, 2010. Print.

Georgel, Pierre, and Jean Labiau. From Renoir to Picasso: masterpieces from the Musée de l'Orangerie. Montréal: Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, 2000. Print.

Mancoff, Debra N.. Van Gogh: fields and flowers. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1999. Print.


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