It is one of the most famous paintings in the entire Western canon, and yet, no one seems to be exactly sure just when “The Starry Night” was painted. While it is generally agreed that it was painted in June of 1889, no one is sure of the exact days – or more likely, nights – that he worked on it.
In May of that year, Van Gogh had committed himself to the hospital at Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, which was housed in a former monastery in Saint-Rémy, less than 20 miles (32 km) from Arles where he had lived for the previous year and painted many of his most well-known works. He painted only a few paintings during his year in the hospital, despite having been given two bedrooms (the second for use as a studio). Of these, “The Starry Night” is the most well-known – indeed, it may be the most well-known of all Van Gogh’s paintings.
The painting itself depicts the night sky as a thing alive with energies and lights. It is a busy image, and yet one that is both playful and restful. The painting depicts the view from the window of Van Gogh’s room, which faced south over the village of Saint-Rémy, although certain liberties have been taken with the view – the presence of the constellation Ursa Major (which should be to the north of the asylum) and of a cypress tree – are both additions not present in the actual view.
Vincent — Don McLean
Fans of Doctor Who should note that this painting was completed after Van Gogh’s encounter with the Doctor and Amy Pond.