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Van Gogh Painting Returns Home

June 11, 2024
A Vincent van Gogh post-Impressionist night scene showing stars shining over a river.

Starry Night Over the Rhône by Vincent van Gogh

There are two paintings by Vincent van Gogh popularly known as The Starry Night. Van Gogh created the more famous of the two in 1889 in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. For over 80 years, it has been part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The other painting is also recognizable, with the full name Starry Night Over the Rhône. It is part of the Musée d’Orsay’s collection but now on exhibit back where Van Gogh first created it.

The Fondation Vincent van Gogh in Arles has recently opened an exhibition called Van Gogh and the Stars, focusing on Starry Night Over the Rhône and its influence. The foundation building sits on the Rue du Dr. Fanton, maybe a minute’s walk away from the banks of the Rhône that the painting depicts. Interestingly, the foundation does not have many Van Gogh works. It mainly exhibits more modern and contemporary art, organizing exhibitions to show the artist’s influence on much of the art that came after him. While the foundation manages to secure loans of paintings and drawings for their exhibitions, the return of Starry Night Over the Rhône is an exciting moment for both the organization and Arles, a location often associated with the artist.

Van Gogh moved from Paris to Arles in 1888 for both his health and creative spirit. His first year in Arles resulted in some of his most iconic work, including Bedroom in Arles, The Night Café, Café Terrace at Night, and his sunflower still-lifes. That year, he also painted Starry Night Over the Rhône. In a letter to his brother Theo, Van Gogh wrote that he had created the painting “at night, under a gas-lamp”. He likely made his sketches and other preliminary drawings in situ, but probably created the finished artwork at the house he lived in a few minutes away. A popular story goes that he painted the entire work at night, attaching candles to the brim of his hat while working. However, this is a fanciful but unlikely story. Van Gogh sent the painting to Paris in September 1889 for the Société des Artistes Indépendants exhibition. For over a hundred thirty years, Starry Night Over the Rhône has remained away from Arles… until now.

Marking the tenth anniversary of the Fondation Van Gogh, the exhibition is a comprehensive exploration that goes beyond the painting itself. It delves into the artist’s masterful use of color, offers insights into the climate of nineteenth-century France, and demonstrates how his work resonated with later artists, from Edvard Munch to Helen Frankenthaler. The exhibit also features works by twentieth-century artists like Yves Klein and Anselm Kiefer, showcasing the enduring influence of ‘Starry Night Over the Rhône ‘. Notably, Georgia O’Keeffe’s 1922 painting ‘Starlight Night, Lake George’ is a part of this diverse and captivating exhibition.

Van Gogh and the Stars will run at the Fondation Van Gogh until September 8th, offering a unique perspective on the artist’s work and its influence. The iconic Starry Night Over the Rhône will be on display until August 25th, after which it will embark on a journey to London’s National Gallery for its next exhibition, Van Gogh: Poets & Lovers.