The work of mad man?
Was Vincent Van Gogh insane when he painting his masterpiece, Starry NIght? Let's look at the facts:
- Van Gogh was a failure as an artist. With about 900 works to his credit, he sold only one during his lifetime.
- He was unsuccessful with romance and with various jobs.
- Just before painting Starry Night, he suffered a bout of epilepsy in which he chased a friend with an open razor. Van Gogh later sliced off a piece of his own ear lobe and offered it to a prostitute.
- He had periods of delusions and lucidity and was sent to an asylum in Saint-Remy for treatment.
- While there, in 1889, he created this work. He was still a young man of 36.
- He killed himself a year later, "for the good of all."
We can infer that Van Gogh was certainly very troubled, but in examining the painting, we can't help but marvel at its logical structure. It looks chaotic, but it's really very orderly.
The painting uses two primary colors, yellow (stars) and blue ( sky), to illustrate a starry night. Mix the two colors and you get the green of the village and surroundings. It's a two-color painting.
The landscape is bright, but it's night. We can tell by the yellow lights in the windows--little splashes of light that balance the bright stars in the sky.
This painting is all about balance, harmony, and repetition.
The large cypress tree in the foreground should dominate the painting, but we're drawn to the other elements--the moon, the stars, the swirling sky, and the picturesque village. What's the purpose of the tree?
- It establishes perspective. It's definitely in the foreground. The village is in the middle ground, The mountains and sky are background. It's a beautiful setting, but we're not part of it. We're far away.
- It balances the dark shapes on the right, as well as counter-balancing the glowing crescent moon.
- It mirrors the church steeple. Both point upward to the vivid sky.
The wavy, turbulent clouds mimic the sweeping hillsides, and they're like a heavenly figure plunging down from above with outstretched arm. Is this a threat or a protective spirit?
The smooth, rolling hills are nothing like the craggy hills near the asylum. Van Gogh painted this from memory, not from direct observation. He took liberties with everything.
The church, the houses, and the roads are blocky and geometric—the human side of the landscape played against God's landscape with its curves and ambiguities. In Van Gogh's mind, which part is chaos and which part is structured?
So was Van Gogh insane when he painted Starry Night? Some critics say his wild brush strokes and odd shapes indicate that he was a bit loony. I don't think so, Tormented and troubled, yes. Crazy, no!
This painting is well planned and beautifully executed. I think he knew exactly what he was doing.
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