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The Painting before “Starry Night”

You might be asking yourself why I am writing about Vincent van Gogh in a blog mostly about photography, but the truth is this blog is also about the things and people that have and continue to inspire me as an artist.

Yes, good photographers are artists.

Van Gogh is my favorite painter of all time – so I wanted to share this with you.

There may be a great fire in our hearts, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke.

– Vincent van Gogh

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Starry Night over the Rhone (above)


In 1889, Vincent Van Gogh painted perhaps what can be considered his most noted and discussed piece of artwork, his masterpiece – “Starry Night”.

The thing many people do not realize is that the year before in September of 1888, he painted a lesser –known but equally astonishing work titled “Starry Night over the Rhone”.

One of the key differences in these paintings is that “Starry Night over Rhone” was painted by Van Gogh at night, working with the light of a gas lamp, and the scene is pulled directly from nature the view from his apartment in Place Lamartine overlooking the Rhone River. 

In contrast, “Starry Night” was painted during the day completely from his memory, not from a scene he was looking at. (Meaning & Analysis)

Another important factor when studying these paintings is to consider Van Gogh’s state of mind and mental condition during the creation of these pieces.   “Starry night over Rhone” was originally sketched out as romantic and depicted two lovers in the night and also depicts the “Great Bear” constellation in the stars.

The following quotation is from a letter he wrote describing “Starry Night over the Rhone” to a friend.  “The starry sky painted by night, actually under a gas jet.  The sky is aquamarine, the water is royal blue, the ground is mauve.  The town is blue and purple.  The gas is yellow and the reflections are russet gold descending down to the green-bronze.  On the aquamarine field of the sky the Great Bear is a sparkling green and pink, whose discreet paleness contrasts with the brutal gold of the gas.  Two colorful figurines of lovers in the foreground.” – Vincent Van Gogh letter 1888.

I can’t even attempt to describe the painting the way that he does and it also gives you some insight into how his mind functioned, fast and furious.

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Starry Night (above)

“Starry Night” was painted from his memory of his view from the mental asylum at Saint-Remy where he was plagued by debilitating anxiety attacks.  This is why this painting is so much more like a dream or possibly even a nightmare rather than an actual reality.

While Vincent Van Gogh’s mind was often trapped in his own head and could not escape the misery that dwelled within, his artwork is truly inspirational, masterful and emotional.  The most incredible thing about him is that he only painted for a decade.

It never ceases to astonish me how someone who was plagued with madness, depression and severe anxiety for so much of his time on earth was able to tap into such beautiful imagery in his own mind and show the rest of the world through a medium that touches the very core of my soul.

  • B.B. Rebel

Works Cited

  • “Vincent Van Gogh.” Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6Th Edition (2013): 1. Academic Search
    Complete. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
    • Arnold, Wilfred Niels. “The Illness of Vincent Van Gogh.” Journal of the History of the Neurosciences 13.1 (2004): 22-43. Academic Search Complete. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
    • “Meaning & Analysis: Starry Night Over the Rhone by Vincent Van Gogh.” Meaning & Analysis: Starry Night Over the Rhone by Vincent Van Gogh. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2014. .