Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) was exposed to art from a very young age because his mother was an artist. Art historians believe that Van Gogh inherited his love for the creation of drawings and watercolors from his mother.

However, Vincent van Gogh’s career as an artist was extremely short. It lasted only from 1880 to 1890 – a mere ten years in which about 2,100 Vincent van Gogh drawings and paintings were created. But Van Gogh suffered from psychotic episodes and often neglected his physical health by not eating properly and drinking heavily. One of Vincent van Gogh’s artworks which he painted while in an asylum because of his mental sickness, is “The Starry Night.” 

This painting has become one of his most famous paintings, and thousands of literary reproductions and prints have been made, but Van Gogh himself regarded it as a failure. In this article, we’ll discuss the painting and try to find out why he thought the painting was a failure.

Vincent Van Gogh and the Sky and Stars

Van Gogh was fascinated by the sky and the stars at night. He often painted the sky and stars, and he said on many occasions that depicting the sky and stars was a way to communicate with God. But, according to what he wrote in letters to people, he also found peace in his tormented mind when he looked at and depicted the sky and the stars. This is one of the reasons why the list of Vincent van Gogh paintings’ names includes so many references to the sky and stars, and so many Vincent van Gogh drawings describe “starry nights.”

Vincent confessed in a letter that when he needed “religion,” he went outside and looked at the stars and found peace by painting them. He believed the stars were another hemisphere, invisible, but the place where one would go after death.

Art scholars believe that Van Gogh wanted the stars he painted to be smaller and that his works should be more realistic, but at the same time, he hoped that the sky would go on into an eternal splendor specially made for him.

The Starry Night: Why Did Vincent Van Gogh Call the Painting a Failure?

Starry Night – Vincent Van Gogh

“The Starry Night”- the Painting

“The Starry Night” forms part of a series of paintings Vincent van Gogh created while in the Saint-Remy asylum. The painting was done during the daytime, from memory and his imagination. The painting couldn’t be created from life as Van Gogh was only allowed outside the asylum’s buildings during the daytime. However, the painting is “alive” with motion and color in the way only Van Gogh could use color.

This artwork on the famous van Gogh paintings list is an oil on canvas painting, and Van Gogh applied the paint directly to the canvas. The result was intense colors and paint that stood up from the canvas’s surface. The artwork is composed in a way that the top two-thirds of the canvas is the night sky. Van Gogh painted the sky with short, circular brush strokes, using intense blue around glowing white and yellow stars and a crescent moon. 

The composition includes a small town between an olive grove and the Alpilles mountains. The morning star glows brightly, and the sky’s blue blends into the black mountains. The viewer experiences energy radiating from the sky, and the large cypress tree on the left sways with the same energy as the sky. Although yellow light glows from the village, the church’s windows are dark. The viewer’s eye is drawn to the sky. 

“The Starry Night,” as an example of Post-Impressionism, focuses on color, light, and the artist’s feelings. Van Gogh was intrigued by the night sky and believed there were more colors at night than during the day. 

Why did Vincent van Gogh Think “The Starry Night” was a Failure?

Van Gogh was never satisfied with” The Starry Night.” When he bundled the series he had created at the asylum to send to his brother Theo, he left three canvases out to save on shipping costs. “The Starry Night” was one of them. In a note to Theo about the series, he didn’t mention “The Starry Night.” 

In a letter to Émile Bernard, Van Gogh called the painting a failure. He believed he had made a mistake by straying too far into abstraction and away from nature. According to him, the stars were too big. He was also very unhappy with “The Starry Night” because he had to paint it from memory and his imagination. He preferred to paint from real life.

Vincent van Gogh also did not favor “The Starry Night” because he intentionally experimented with the type of abstraction that was becoming very popular in the art community then. With his experiment, he hoped that with this new technique, he would deliver a more marketable product. Although he was experimenting, he didn’t like the idea – even while still in the painting process of “The Starry Night.” It felt wrong to him. He believed he was led astray to experiment in “The Starry Night” but failed. Interestingly, he did not personally sell this painting during his lifetime, but his attempt to create something marketable was highly successful after his death.

When he looked at “The Starry Night,” Van Gogh later wrote that he felt he had sold himself out to a commercial trend. As a result, he intentionally distanced himself from the painting. Ironically, the image Van Gogh was the most disappointed with has become one of the most famous Vincent van Gogh’s artworks. For many people, “The Starry Night” is the painting that comes to mind when they think of Van Gogh’s artworks. 

Conclusion

Vincent van Gogh was fascinated by the sky and stars at night. Many of the artworks on the Van Gogh paintings list are about the sky and stars. He painted it often and saw it as his communication with God. It is therefore understandable that a “star painting” – “The Starry Night”- is one of the most famous Vincent van Gogh artworks. The irony is that Van Gogh described the painting as one of his biggest failures.