Seeing Stars

We’re all familiar with star-filled skies from looking out at the night sky, whether it be from walking outside, camping or even through the window of an asylum.

That’s right, an asylum.

For Vincent Van Gogh, he saw The Starry Night through the window at a psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy in 1889 (below).

The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

This and many of Van Gogh’s prominent works resulted from his voluntary stay at the St. Paul Mausole from 1889-1890. After a breakdown in 1888, when he infamously cut off his own ear, he was hospitalized on and off and suffered from delusions and hallucinations. Local townspeople even nicknamed him “fou roux” or the “redheaded madman.” He found acceptance and understanding with the staff and fellow patients at St. Paul Mausole, though, and he was encouraged to paint throughout his stay.

The Starry Night was an idea Van Gogh had outlined before his arrival at St. Paul’s, but he found that the view from his room at night would be the main landscape he would paint from. Much of the piece was from observation but he spent a majority of the time working on it in a small studio provided to him at the hospital, during daylight hours.

The above selection shows some of the work he also completed at the asylum, including portraits of staff and fellow patients, and irises from near the buildings. Large fields and gardens surround St. Paul’s, and Van Gogh had been interested in nature his whole life, so it’s fitting that much of his work resembled a combination of the two.

He may have only sold one of his pieces during his lifetime but I think he’d be pretty impressed with the mark he has left on the art world, even posthumously.


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