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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John MacDougall, Getty Images
Stolpersteine: One Artist's International Memorial to the Holocaust
John MacDougall, Getty Images
John MacDougall, Getty Images

The most startling memorial to victims of the Holocaust may also be the easiest to miss. Embedded in the sidewalks of more than 20 countries, more than 60,000 Stolpersteine—German for “stumbling stones”—mark the spots where victims last resided before they were forced to leave their homes. The modest, nearly 4-by-4-inch brass blocks, each the size of a single cobblestone, are planted outside the doorways of row houses, bakeries, and coffee houses. Each tells a simple yet chilling story: A person lived here. This is what happened to them.

Here lived Hugo Lippers
Born 1878
Arrested 11/9/1938 — Altstrelitzer prison
Deported 1942 Auschwitz
Murdered

The project is the brainchild of the German artist Gunter Demnig, who first had the idea in the early 1990s as he studied the Nazis' deportation of Sinti and Roma people. His first installations were guerrilla artwork: According to Reuters, Demnig laid his first 41 blocks in Berlin without official approval. The city, however, soon endorsed the idea and granted him permission to install more. Today, Berlin has more than 5000.

Demnig lays a Stolpersteine.
Artist Gunter Demnig lays a Stolpersteine outside a residence in Hamburg, Germany in 2012.
Patrick Lux, Getty Images

The Stolpersteine are unique in their individuality. Too often, the millions of Holocaust victims are spoken of as a nameless mass. And while the powerful memorials and museums in places such as Berlin and Washington, D.C. are an antidote to that, the Stolpersteine are special—they are decentralized, integrated into everyday life. You can walk down a sidewalk, look down, and suddenly find yourself standing where a person's life changed. History becomes unavoidably present.

That's because, unlike gravestones, the stumbling stones mark an important date between a person’s birth and death: the day that person was forced to abandon his or her home. As a result, not every stumbling stone is dedicated to a person who was murdered. Some plaques commemorate people who fled Europe and survived. Others honor people who were deported but managed to escape. The plaques aim to memorialize the moment a person’s life was irrevocably changed—no matter how it ended.

The ordinariness of the surrounding landscape—a buzzing cafe, a quaint bookstore, a tree-lined street—only heightens that effect. As David Crew writes for Not Even Past, “[Demnig] thought the stones would encourage ordinary citizens to realize that Nazi persecution and terror had begun on their very doorsteps."

A man in a shop holding a hammer making a Stolpersteine.
Artisan Michael Friedrichs-Friedlaender hammers inscriptions into the brass plaques at the Stolpersteine manufacturing studio in Berlin.
Sean Gallup, Getty Images

While Demnig installs every single Stolpersteine himself, he does not work alone. His project, which stretches from Germany to Brazil, relies on the research of hundreds of outside volunteers. Their efforts have not only helped Demnig create a striking memorial, but have also helped historians better document the lives of individuals who will never be forgotten.

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Evening Standard/Stringer, Getty Images
60 Years Later, a Lost Stanley Kubrick Script Has Been Found
Evening Standard/Stringer, Getty Images
Evening Standard/Stringer, Getty Images

A “lost” screenplay co-written by famed filmmaker Stanley Kubrick has been found after 60 years, Vulture reports.

The screenplay is an adaptation of Stefan Zweig’s novella Burning Secret, which Vulture describes as a reverse Lolita (plot summary for those who forgot high school English class: a man enters a relationship with a woman because of his obsession with her 12-year-old daughter). In Burning Secret, a man befriends an adolescent boy in order to seduce his mother. Zweig’s other works have inspired films like Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel (which the director claims he "stole" from Zweig's novels Beware of Pity and The Post-Office Girl).

Kubrick’s screenplay adaptation is co-written by novelist Calder Willingham and dated October 24, 1956. Although the screenplay bears a stamp from MGM’s screenwriting department, Nathan Abrams—the Bangor University professor who discovered the script—thinks it’s likely the studio found it too risqué for mass audiences.

“The child acts as an unwitting go-between for his mother and her would-be lover, making for a disturbing story with sexuality and child abuse churning beneath its surface,” Abrams told The Guardian. It's worth noting, however, that Kubrick directed an adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita in 1962, which MGM distributed, and it was also met with a fair share of controversy.

Abrams said the screenplay for Burning Secret is complete enough that it could be created by filmmakers today. He noted that the discovery is particularly exciting because it confirms speculations Kubrick scholars have had for decades.

“Kubrick aficionados knew he wanted to do it, [but] no one ever thought it was completed,” Abrams told The Guardian.

The Guardian reports that Abrams found the screenplay while researching his book Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick and the Making of His Final Film. The screenplay is owned by the family of one of Kubrick’s colleagues.

[h/t Vulture]

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