Viewing Reaction - Analyze Van Gogh's The Stormy Night Oil Canvas 1889 – Assignment Example

Viewing Reactions for the Van Gogh Painting Starry Night. Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) was born the son of a pastor in the Netherlands and he studied theology. His skill as a painter was not properly recognised while he was alive, and though he sought out contact with great artists of the time such as Gaugin, he had difficulty relating to other people. The painting Starry Night was created in 1889 when van Gogh was living in a mental hospital at St Remy in the south of France after suffering a bout of severe illness including episodes of delusions and self harm.
The subject matter was used by Millet in an earlier painting also called Starry Night (1851) and by Van Gogh himself in a painting called Starry Night on the Rhone (1888) but Millet’s painting is in the naturalist tradition, while Van Gogh’s is in the impressionist tradition. Both could be said to be fairly realist in approach. Van Gogh’s Starry Night of 1889 uses some impressionist techniques in the brush strokes but it is a big departure from these realist influences. The landscape is presented as a rolling hill rising from left to right across the canvas and the sky appears to have swirls of cloud running up that hill. There are round, fluid shapes in the sky, which represent stars, but they are blurred, as if seen through water or a distorting lens. The picture as a whole lacks focus because of these super large items in the sky, including a moon not much bigger than the stars which is placed at the very edge of the painting, as if to contrast with the dark trees in the bottom right. It looks like an imaginary little town where the windows shine with homely light but which is dominated by a huge and chaotic night-time sky.
The painting is hard to classify because it seems to be partly impressionist, but reaching towards an expressionist approach as well. Some critics label it “modernist” but it is generally classified in the phrase “post-impressionist”. The picture has been much admired and is known well beyond art circles thanks to the song “Vincent” sung by Don McClean where the mention of “swirling clouds in violet haze” clearly refers to this painting. It is undoubtedly one of the world’s great art works, despite its rather disturbing mood, and its restless night sky has become an enduring representation of the inner turmoil that everyone feels from time to time.
References
Millet (circa 1851) Starry Night. Oil on canvas. Private ownership.
Van Gogh (1888) Starry Night on the Rhone. Oil on canvas. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
Van Gogh (1889) Starry Night. Oil on canvas. Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Vincent (1971). Song. From the Album American Pie. Written and sung by Don
McClean. Produced by Ed Freeman. BGO label.
Wold, Martin, Miller and Cykker. (1995) Introduction to Music and Art in the
Western World. 10th edition. New York: McGraw Hill.