Stirring the Mind into Thought

starry_night_over_the_rhoneEveryone knows Vincent Van Gogh as the depressed guy who cut off his ear, painted himself with the cut-off ear and later committed suicide. However, he is much more than that and much more than his famous painting, Starry Night. There is a reason why that was one of his most famous works; the night defined Van Gogh. He said, “I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.” There was definitely an eeriness and a spirituality to the night that Van Gogh saw.

Van Gogh started his career at 27 and his obsession with the night and the dark. Beginning with paintings using sunsets, he wanted to create an effets de soir, or evening effects. He also developed his style of rhythmic brushstrokes and mixes of bright and dark colors, which created a sense of fluidity and vibrancy to his paintings. His obsession with the night also had to do with the lights within the night, such as the stars, moon and even artificial light from lamps or fireplaces. The themes of his paintings had everything to do with nightlife, from the effects of light on night sky and landscapes, peasant life and rural life (sun setting after a hard day’s work) and night cafes.

Two of his first works, En Route and Before the Hearth, which are pencil drawings, show people at night with light. The first is a man walking alone during winter with a lantern and the second is a man trying to get warm by the fireplace, both of which depict the importance of light at night. Not only did Van Gogh depict the night, he appreciated nature, like in the painting Lane of Poplars, which had an earthly quality using trees. This explained why he used peasants in many of his paintings. He believed peasants were closer to nature and the cycles of life. The peasants were shown in intimate family settings at night as in The Potato Eaters or at the end of a workday as in The Sower paintings.

Van Gogh also liked to depict the sinister nature of night with paintings of dance halls and cafes. The Dance Hall at Arles and The Night Café are tow of his most famous. He also observed how the artificial light in these places gave a look of a hellish furnace unlike the halo glow of his starry night paintings, such as the Starry Night Over the Rhone.

July 8th, 2009 at 12:27 PM

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