Admire Van Gogh’s distinctive brush strokes. You can feel the stress and the urgency behind them. He often used paint impasto — straight from the tube
Starry Night Over the Rhone is among Vincent Van Gogh’s most beautiful works. He painted it at a spot on the bank of the Rhone just two minutes from the Yellow House, where he was living at the time. The night sky and the light on the water were favoured subjects of Van Gogh: he returned to them in Cafe Terrace at Night and another, later canvas from Saint-Rémy, The Starry Night.
Van Gogh was a troubled man, and much of what we know of him comes from his correspondences with his brother, Theo, and his unrequited love. His letters paint the scene almost as well as his brush, and he has an artist’s sensitivity to colour:
“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 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 colourful figurines of lovers in the foreground.”
You can visit the same site in Arles, in the south of France, today; it remains quite similar to how it was in 1888, when Van Gogh painted it. You will still see the distinctive shore line, the Trinquetaille bridge and, at night, the Ursa Major constellation glowing overhead. The painting itself is exhibited at the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris.
There is a lovely but sadly untrue story that Van Gogh used to paint these night sky scenes with lit candles on the brim of his hat. Just imagine: what a neighbourhood eccentric he would have been. Unfortunately he actually used gas lanterns instead.
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