Painting Description and Analysis:
As soon as he arrived in Arles for a period of recuperation after the effects of Paris and his fraught personal life took their toll, Van Gogh was captivated by the night sky of the Southern French region. This period of experimentation with the nature of night and the representation of its dark canopy led to the creation of some of his most recognizable pieces. The starry night sky was both a motor for his increased artistic output and a method of self-treatment, notably during his time in a sanatorium after a massive breakdown. Starry Night Over the Rhone
, painted a year before Starry Night
, is a huge accomplishment, and an experiential reproduction of a nighttime so paradoxically full of light. Following Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum
in the artist’s chronology, the night depicted in Starry Night Over the Rhone
translates the seemingly unavoidable black hues for royal blues, Prussian blues, and ultramarine. Many see violence and anguish expressed in the tumultuous brushstrokes, while others detect serenity in the cosmic vortex of the sky.
Van Gogh painted two other versions of the starry night, one currently housed at the New York MoMA
and the other housed in the Musée d'Orsay
. Although the artist only sold one painting during his short and troubled life, the influence of his night visions is immense. Starry Night Over the Rhone
is remarkable in its depiction of the tiny figures of a couple walking along the river, facing the viewer as if in a pose. Both anchoring and off-setting the dream- like qualities of the piece, this reproduction of a seemingly gentle scene takes on chameleonic qualities – molding and flattening itself to the psychological state of the viewer. More than anything else, Starry Night Over the Rhone
is a work that demands experiencing, and re-experiencing, securing its place as one of the world’s great cultural treasures.
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