Starry Night

What better image to be painting tonight than this epic Masterpiece! After all, the shop where I work is called Vino & Van Gogh!

While I’m not Vincent, I tried to create as faithful a representation of this painting that someone could reasonably reproduce in two hours.

Usually, I am closer to replicating the original painting. However, the level of complexity in this one required a lot more simplification.


The original:


My Copy:

Starry Night.jpg

What’s the Same:

Because the sky is the most striking element in the painting, I kept the shape of the main swirl. Also, I maintained placement of the stars (and moon obviously!). The church and steeple were the most prominent element in the town, so I kept them.

What’s Different:

The original sky had hundreds of brush strokes. If I’d allotted myself more time, I could have included more.

However, the purpose of the copy was for the wine & paint shop — not to look pretty on my blog or sell on my etsy shop.  If I “cheated” with extra time, that would be misleading and frustrating for the students.

Van Gogh also used impasto which creates 3D ridges, meanwhile I’ll use paint that isn’t as thick. Our finished product will be flatter, so the texture won’t be identical.


Plus, it would have been impossible to replicate all of those small buildings in the village in such a short time. Honestly, when I chose this painting, I didn’t realize how detailed the village is! My guess is many people are the same because the sky is such a show-stopper.

I’ll bring a copy of the original to the class for students to do a comparison. Then they can pull up the image on their phones if they’re ambitious enough to add some parts I eliminated.

The large figure to the left is a cypress tree, traditionally a symbol of death. Comparing the two digital images, my green isn’t as prominent as I’d like, which I may have time to touch up when I prepare paint for the class.

Quirky Trivia

We all know Van Gogh achieved fame postumously, but Starry Night was totally unknown for decades after he became notable.

VVG’s Rise to Fame in Europe

  • Most of what we know about Van Gogh came from his brother, Theo, who inherited his paintings. When Theo passed away, his widow showed Vincent’s work. Dutch painting philosophy at the time rejected Impressionism (surprising, right?) and favored the artist’s imagination over depiction of nature. VVG fit right in to this idea.
  • Another factor contributing to VVG’s rise to fame is that when Theo’s widow exhibited his work, all the pieces were fresh & new. VVG had exhibited very few paintings during his life, and the ones he had were individual pieces displayed among other artists. Imagine the impact of seeing a collection of all many of his works!
  • During World War I, Van Gogh became a hero among the Dutch and French people.

Americans Learn to Appreciate VanGogh

  • MoMa (The Museum of Modern Art in New York City) acquired Starry Night right before World War II, and at that time, Van Gogh was largely unknown in the United States.
  • During World War II, great works of art were protected in secret locations so that they wouldn’t be destroyed if the US were bombed on home soil. For example, the Smithsonian sent pieces to the Vanderbilt family to house at their Biltmore Estate, outside Asheville, North Carolina.
  • Moma hid Starry Night in a Pennsylvania coal mine. (Instead of statues, plaster replicas occupied the museum during wartime.)
  • After the war, the painting was returned to the museum and instantly appealed tot the American people.
  • The dynamic sky had visual impact and the lurid rumors of Vincent’s time in an “asylum” (technically a hospital) added to the paintings notoriety.

Composition of the Work

The landscape in the painting is often said to be the view from VanGogh’s hospital window in Saint-Paul after he lost touch with his sanity. While the town in the painting does represent the town of Saint Remy in Arles (where Saint-Paul was located), some scholars claim other elements of the painting were patchworked from memory. They believe the mountains in the background are Alps, and the cypress trees are native to the Mediterranean, not this area. They claim that VanGogh was examining his mortality.

After looking at Google maps, though, I wonder if this theory is stretching. I do see plants that look a lot like cypresses and hills in the background. Another assertion is that the church steeple isn’t typical architecture in this area. Having never been fortunate enough to visit Provence myself, that could be right. (Hopefully I’ll be able to confirm that in person one day!)

I think this theory about math and the rhythm of the painting is a much more interesting theory. I’m always a big fan of TED Talks! This one describes how VanGogh managed to visually represent turbulence (like the kind you experience on an airplane.)

Check out the original painting and more information on the Moma website

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