Didem Doğan

Van Gogh’s Starry Nights in Musée d’Orsay

We are in Orsay Museum. Following St Germain neighbourhood we walk along the river Seine, an old train station on the left hand side of the river is turned into a museum, famous with its impressionist painters’ collection, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, Monet, Van Gogh… The most significant novelty of the Impressionists was to paint the daily life. The second half of the 19th century, train stations, picnics, theatres… The reason Impressionists became so famous was not only their technical innovation, their use of light, it was also their putting the ‘subject’ at the centre of the painting, they managed to portray the ‘moment’, without posing, tried to depict it the way it was… Van Gogh’s art coincided with this art movement at some point. During the years his brother Theo was working in Paris as an art trader he comes to visit him and meets the works of the Impressionists. One of Van Gogh’s works exhibited in Orsay Museum is very well known, the Starry Nights is one of his paintings made during his stay in Arles, France. This place is where the famous story of ear cutting took place in the Christmas of 1889, he invites Gaugin to live and paint with him to this French town where they stayed in the yellow house, river Rhone is close to this famous house. We see in Starry Nights the houses by the river, their silhouette reflected in water, but the stars seem bigger than they really are, somehow they are circles rather than points, dark blue and yellow is dominant in the painting and there’s a kind of contradiction between the silence of the town and the river and the energy spread from the stars. This painting has become so legendary that even scientists claimed that there’s a hidden mathematics behind it; the turbulence as explained in physics: in a delirious state Van Gogh actually saw the stars the way really they were and painted them as they really were. Maybe his psychic crisis was the price he payed to see the reality? The art critic Antonin Artaud arguments similarly: “Van Gogh did not used to think of a figure in his mind, he himself was both the object and the subject of his art.”