Analysis and meaning of Van Gogh's Starry Night painting

Analysis and meaning of Van Gogh's Starry Night painting

The painting The Starry Night, by Vincent van Gogh, was painted in 1889. It is an oil on canvas, measuring 74 cm X 92 cm, and is located at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA).

The painting depicts the landscape from the artist's bedroom window while he was in the Saint-Rémy-de-Provence asylum, and is considered one of the Dutch artist's most significant works.

Interpretation and context
Vincent van Gogh painted this painting when he was in the Saint-Rémy-de-Provence asylum, where he voluntarily admitted himself in 1889. Van Gogh had a troubled emotional life, suffering from depression and psychotic episodes.

During the time he was hospitalized he carried out several studies of places in the hospital, such as the corridor and the entrance. His departures were controlled, which left him with limited themes for painting.

At the hospital, Van Gogh had access to two cells: one where he slept, and another on the ground floor, where he could paint. The Starry Night is the view from the room he slept in, just before sunrise. The painter could not complete his paintings in this room, but he had charcoal and paper, which he used to make sketches and later finish the works.

Van Gogh was a post-impressionist and was considered one of the pioneers of modern art. We can see in his works a representation of the world, with strong brushstrokes, but almost no abstraction.

The painting The Starry Night is considered one of Van Gogh's most important, as it contains some small abstractions, which would become essential material for modernism.

Also take the opportunity to read the article Van Gogh's fundamental works and his biography.

Analysis: main elements of the work
This painting is one of Van Gogh's most important. In it, the artist conveys his agitated psychological state through the movement of his brushstrokes and a dynamism previously unheard of.

The use of spirals
The spirals are the first thing that catches your eye in this painting. The quick clockwise strokes give a sense of depth and movement to the sky.


These spirals are characteristic of Van Gogh's works from that period. With short movements of the brush, the artist constructs a restless sky, revealing his own mental disturbances and drawing an unusual portrait of the sky.

The village
The small village represented in Van Gogh's painting was not part of the landscape seen from his room.


Some critics believe that it is a representation of the village in which the painter spent his childhood. Others believe it to be the village of Saint-Rémy.

For all intents and purposes, the village is an insertion made by the artist, being an imagined component that may have been included as a nostalgic memory of his childhood and youth in Holland.

The points of light in the houses relate to the stars in the sky, creating a dialogue between humanity and the grandeur of the milky way.

The cypress
Cypress is a common element in Van Gogh's works. This tree is associated with death in several European cultures. They were used in Egyptian sarcophagi and Roman coffins.

The cypress tree became common for decorating cemeteries and is almost always related to the end of life.


For Van Gogh, the interest in cypress trees also has a formal, as well as symbolic, character. The painter greatly appreciated the unusual shapes that the cypress presents and its fluidity.

The beautiful movements that this tree makes are represented in this painting, and can also be interpreted as huge flames that dance with the wind.

The stars
The stars are one of the most important elements of the board. In addition to their plastic beauty, they are representative as they demonstrate great abstraction.


At first, Van Gogh was not satisfied with the painting. For him, the stars were too big. He says he was carried away by abstractionist ideas when composing large stars.

Interpretation of the work
This work by Vincent van Gogh is a landmark in the history of art. Its plastic beauty is remarkable and the elements that compose it show the work of a mature artist.

Many critics consider the painting a milestone in Van Gogh's career, even though they had no appreciation for the painter when it was made.

The painting is very expressive, the view of the turbulent night sky with the spirals is striking and contrasts with the calm of the small village just below the lines of the hills.

A cypress tree that rises vertically takes the front of the painting, like a prominent figure in the middle of the landscape. Next to it, the church tower also projects upwards, but in a slightly more timid way. Both project a connection between earth and sky. These are the two vertical elements in this Van Gogh painting.