Starry Night Anniversary

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Starry Night Anniversary

Postby steve-fung » Wed Jun 15, 2016 5:24 pm

This year marks the 127th anniversary of the Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, which was painted in mid June 1889. Celebrating this anniversary, Bill S. found the following video by Ebru artist, Garip Ay, painting Starry Night and Van Gogh on water with Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata playing in the background,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dKy7HNU4vk

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) was known for his eccentric personality and unstable moods, suffering from recurrent psychotic episodes and committed suicide at the age of 37. French neurologist Henri Gastaut hypothesized that van Gogh suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy precipitated by the use of absinthe, but van Gogh also had episodes of depression that were followed by sustained periods of increasingly high energy and enthusiasm, first as an evangelist and then as an artist, suggesting that he also had bipolar disorder.

In December 1888, van Gogh had one of these episodes that resulted in the self-mutilation of his left ear. Afterwards, van Gogh voluntarily admitted himself to the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Remy-de-Provence, France on May 8, 1889. During the year at the asylum, van Gogh had a prolific output of paintings and produced some of his best-known works, including the Starry Night. The painting depicts the early morning view from the east-facing window of van Gogh's asylum room just before sunrise, probably around 5 AM on May 23, 1889 (see enclosed astronomy view) when he wrote a letter to his brother Theo, "Through the iron-barred window I can make out a square of wheat in an enclosure, a perspective in the manner of van Goyen, above which in the morning I see the sun rise in its glory."

He probably started painting the scene around June 9, when he wrote "for a few days now I’ve been going outside to work in the neighbourhood... One is the countryside that I glimpse from the window of my bedroom. In the foreground a field of wheat, ravaged and knocked to the ground after a storm. A boundary wall and beyond, grey foliage of a few olive trees, huts and hills. Finally, at the top of the painting a large white and grey cloud swamped by the azure. It’s a landscape of extreme simplicity — in terms of coloration as well." The painting was finished in mid June 1889, and van Gogh again wrote to his brother on June 18, "At last I have a landscape with olive trees, and also a new study of a starry sky."

Image

To see what van Gogh saw, just use an astronomy program, e.g. SkySafari, and enter for location Saint-Remy-de-Provence, France, and time May 23, 1889 around 5 AM, and look due east. You will see Venus and a crescent moon, just like the painting.
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Re: Starry Night Anniversary

Postby henry-gonzalez » Wed Jun 15, 2016 6:59 pm

Thanks for sharing. Good read!
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Re: Starry Night Anniversary

Postby steve-fung » Sat Jun 18, 2016 10:30 am

Just to add to the discussion - although Starry Night was historically thought to have been painted in mid June 1889 (around June 18), the eastward view of the early morning sky would have shown a gibbous moon. Alternatively, van Gough could have painted the next crescent moon, around June 21-23, but that would have been later in the month than historically recorded. It is known that van Gogh was not allowed to paint in his bedroom, so he had to have painted from memory. Therefore, I still think he was remembering the sky as it was on the previous crescent moon, around May 23, when he first wrote to his brother about the glorious view just before sunrise. Alternatively, some historians think he saw a gibbous moon but painted a crescent moon because it was more esthetically pleasant. Van Gogh was an impressionist painter, so he could have painted a constantly changing moon. Only if one can go back in time and ask him personally.
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