Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Van Gogh And Starry Night

I probably first learnt of the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh in my younger days from Don McLean's song, Vincent. In it, he sang of Van Gogh being misunderstood and how he suffered for his sanity. To me, that song has some of the most beautiful and moving lyrics written.

The Starry Night at the New York Museum of Modern Art

I visited the New York Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) recently specifically to view Van Gogh's The Starry Night masterpiece referenced in the song. MOMA offers free admission after 4 pm on Friday nights but it is extremely crowded and difficult to view all the exhibits properly. Hence I attended during the week and I was not disappointed. Of all the paintings exhibited, The Starry Night seemed to be the most popular with the most crowd. It hung there unobstructed by bullet proof glass (unlike the Mona Lisa). It was a good size crowd but one could still stand close to the masterpiece and snap a couple of good shots with the camera flash lights turned off.

In the painting, one experienced the dichotomy of the burst of energy between the heavenly skies and the sleepy hamlet below. The starry skies and the cypress tree dominated the hamlet and church landscape perhaps indicating men were unmatched by the supremacy of Mother Nature. The most entrancing aspect of the painting was the fiery balls of energy emanating from the eleven stellar bodies.  Why eleven stars ? Some experts speculated that Van Gogh was perhaps referencing the eleven stars mentioned in the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. Van Gogh was once a missionary.

This oil painting was completed in 1889. In 1941, MOMA acquired this painting through the bequest of an American philanthropist. I did not realize till this visit that Van Gogh took his own life at such a relatively young age of 37. I've also learnt that he painted The Starry Night after he was committed to the asylum and have to depend on his memories to paint the swirling night sky and blazing stars. It was also noted poignantly that Van Gogh had sold only one painting during his life time.

This oil painting is undoubtedly priceless and it is not for sale. Estimates of its worth are probably over $100 million in today's market. The most expensive painting ever sold was an abstract piece painted by the American artist Jackson Pollock. The transaction took place a few years ago at the reported sum of $140 million.

After this viewing, I am inspired to visit the another Van Gogh's masterpiece, Irises, at the  J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles one day.

Source: J. Paul Getty Museum

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