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Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

11 Things You Didn't Know About The Starry Night

Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

With its seductive swirls, intoxicating composition, and enchanting color palette, Vincent van Gogh's The Starry Night is one of the world's most beloved and well-known works of art. In its creation and eventual success, there's much more to this Starry Night than you might have known.

1. It Depicts Van Gogh’s view from an asylum.

After experiencing a mental breakdown in the winter of 1888, van Gogh checked himself in to the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. The view became the basis of his most iconic work. Of his inspiration, van Gogh wrote in one of his many letters to his brother Theo, "This morning I saw the country from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big."

2. He left out the iron bars.

Art historians have determined that van Gogh took some liberties with the view from his second story bedroom window, a theory supported by the fact that the studio in which he painted was on the building's first floor. He also left out the window's less-than-welcoming bars, a detail he included in another letter to Theo. In May of 1889, he wrote, "Through the iron-barred window. I can see an enclosed square of wheat ... above which, in the morning, I watch the sun rise in all its glory."

3. The village was more creative license than reality.

From his window, van Gogh wouldn't have been able to see Saint-Rémy. However, art historians differ on whether the village presented in The Starry Night is pulled from one of van Gogh's charcoal sketches of the French town or if it is actually inspired by his homeland, the Netherlands.

4. The Starry Night may be about mortality.

The dark spires in the foreground are cypress trees, plants most often associated with cemeteries and death. This connection gives a special significance to this van Gogh quote, "Looking at the stars always makes me dream. Why, I ask myself, shouldn't the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star."

5. This was not Van Gogh's first Starry Night.

The Starry Night that is world-renowned was painted in 1889. But the year before, van Gogh created his original Starry Night, sometimes known as Starry Night Over The Rhone. After his arrival in Arles, France in 1888, van Gogh became a bit obsessed with capturing the lights of the night sky. He dabbled in its depiction with Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, before daring to make his first Starry Night draft with the view of the Rhone River.

6. Van Gogh considered The Starry Night a "failure."

Surveying the works that would become known as his Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Remy series, he wrote to Theo, "All in all the only things I consider a little good in it are the Wheatfield, the Mountain, the Orchard, the Olive trees with the blue hills and the Portrait and the Entrance to the quarry, and the rest says nothing to me."

7. Van Gogh unknowingly painted Venus.

In 1985, UCLA art historian Albert Boime compared Starry Night to a planetarium recreation of how the night's sky would have appeared on June 19, 1889. The similarities were striking, and proved that van Gogh's "morning star," as referenced in his letter to his brother, was in fact the planet Venus.

8. Van Gogh sold only one or two paintings in his life—and neither was The Starry Night.

The one known for sure to have been sold was the far lesser known The Red Vineyard at Arles, which was completed in November 1888, before the breakdown that sent him to the asylum. Belgian artist and collector Anna Boch purchased it for 400 francs at the Les XX exhibition in 1890. Today this historic painting is on display at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. But there is evidence that van Gogh sold a second painting. In his biography of the artist, historian Marc Edo Tralbaut talked about a letter from Theo saying one of van Gogh’s self portraits found its way to a London art dealer.

9. The Starry Night was twice owned by Theo's widow.

Following van Gogh's death in 1890, Theo inherited all of his brother's works. But when he died in the fall of 1891, his wife Johanna Gezina van Gogh-Bonger became the owner of Starry Night and scads of other paintings. It was van Gogh-Bonger who collected and edited the brothers' correspondence for publication, and she is credited with building van Gogh's posthumous fame, thanks to her tireless promotions of his work and exhibitions.

In 1900, van Gogh-Bonger sold Starry Night to French poet Julien Leclerq, who soon sold it to Post-Impressionist artist Émile Schuffenecker. Six years later, she bought the painting back from Schuffenecker so she could pass it along to the Oldenzeel Gallery in Rotterdam.

10. The Starry Night now lives in New York thanks to Lillie P. Bliss.

Bliss was the daughter of a textile merchant who used her grand wealth to become one of the foremost collectors of modern art in the early 20th century. Alongside Mary Quinn Sullivan and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, she helped found Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art. Following her death in 1931, The Lillie P. Bliss Bequest turned much of her collection over to MoMA, creating the nucleus of the museum’s collection in the midst of the Great Depression. In 1941, three pieces from Bliss's impressive collection were sold so that MoMA could acquire Starry Night.

11. The lights of The Starry Night seem to flicker because of how the human brain works.

In this Avi Ofer-animated TED-Ed video, Natalya St. Clair further explains how van Gogh's painting is an accurate depiction of turbulence, "one of the most supremely difficult concepts nature has ever brought before mankind."

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A Visual History of Captain America’s Shields
Pop Chart Lab
Pop Chart Lab

Captain America has gone through plenty of wardrobe changes since his comic book debut in 1941, but it’s his iconic shield that has had the most makeovers. Over the past eight decades, fans have seen the shield change its shape, color, and even the material from which it’s crafted. For the folks at Pop Chart Lab, the shield’s storied history provided the perfect subject matter for their latest poster.

On this piece, the company teamed with Marvel to give a rundown of 50 of Cap’s shields—from the instantly recognizable to the downright obscure. Here we see his classic Golden Age shield, with its slightly different color scheme, and the different variations from Jack Kirby’s time-traveling Bicentennial Battles book. Then there are entries like the vibranium shield he received from Black Panther in Captain America #342 and an adamantium one made by Tony Stark.

Those different shields just scratch the surface of the deep cuts Pop Chart Lab provides. There are also shields from Captain Americas across Marvel’s numerous alternate universes, like the ones used by the Ultimate Universe Steve Rogers and the android Cap from Earth-725.

Each shield is illustrated to match its comic book counterpart and comes with a description specifying the series it debuted in and which Earth it exists on (the Marvel Universe has thousands of different versions of Earth, after all).

The posters will begin shipping on May 23, and you can pre-order yours now starting at $29 on the Pop Chart Lab website. You can check out a full look at the poster below.

Pop Chart Lab's Captain America shield poster
Pop Chart Lab
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5 Fast Facts About Tamara de Lempicka
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes artists become more known among the general public for their colorful personal lives than for their artwork, no matter how great their contributions to the art world. Such is the case with Polish/American artist Tamara de Lempicka, who was born on this day in 1898. While Google is honoring what would have been her 120th birthday with a Google Doodle,  here are some highlights from her storied life.

1. SHE BEGAN HER "CAREER" AT THE AGE OF 12.

Tamara de Lempicka, who was born Maria Górska, discovered her artistic passion and skill at the age of 12. Lempicka had sat for a famous painter, but hated the resulting portrait, and believed she could do a better job. Thus she created her first painting ever, a portrait of her younger sister Adrienne, with which she was extremely pleased.

2. SHE MET HER HUSBAND WHEN SHE WAS 14 YEARS OLD.

Though she was only 14 years old when she met Taduesz Lempicki, the teenaged Lempicka became determined to marry him. Just a few years later, when she was 17 years old, she married the "modestly well-off lawyer" with a dowry provided by her "millionaire banker uncle." (She hadn't lived with her parents since they divorced when she was a child.)

3. SHE'S MORE FAMOUS FOR HER SEX LIFE THAN HER ART.

 Gallery technicians at Sotheby's auction house lift a painting by Tamara de Lempicka entitled 'Portrait de la Duchesse de la Salle' from 1925, next to another painting by the artist, 'Portrait de Marjorie Ferry' from 1932
Oli Scarff, Getty Images

Although she is considered the most famous Art Deco painter, Lempicka was more famous for her libido than for her art. She was bisexual, and carried on scandalous affairs with both men and women (often her patrons and models). Yet the exact details are somewhat unclear since, according to one source, she "shuffled the facts of her biography as much as she meddled with her birth date"—and she meddled with her birth date quite a bit, even going so far as to reportedly try to pass her daughter off as her sister on occasion.

4. SHE LIVED A LIFE OF LUXURY.

Lempicka lived a life of luxury from childhood. Not only was she born into a wealthy family, her second husband was Baron Kuffner, a wealthy Hungarian baron who had been her patron and lover. Although she initially lost money in 1929 when her bank collapsed, she survived the Great Depression relatively unaffected, painting the portraits of King Alfonso XIII of Spain and Queen Elizabeth of Greece during that time. She had been charging as much as 50,000 French francs per portrait by 1927, which was equivalent to about $2000 then, but would be about 10 times as much today.

5. HER ASHES WERE SCATTERED OVER A VOLCANO.

In 1980, Lempicka passed away in Mexico. Per her request, Lempicka's ashes were scattered over the crater of the volcanic Mount Popocatepetl by her daughter, Kizette.

An earlier version of this post appeared in 2008.

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