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Starry Night Over the Rhone

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Oil on canvas
72.5 x 92.0 cm.
Arles: September, 1888
F 474, JH 1592

Paris: Musee d'Orsay


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Vincent van Gogh is deservedly famous for the series of starry sky paintings he produced in Arles in 1888. The four famous starry sky paintings, Starry Night over the Rhone, Starry Night, Café Terrace and Portrait of Eugene Boch, form a series of stark and visually powerful works that celebrate the night sky as much as Van Gogh also celebrated the blazing Provencal sun.

It's a long-held popular misconception that Van Gogh painted his night sky works with lit candles lined up along the brim of his hat. While this is certainly a striking image it is, unfortunately, apocryphal. As Van Gogh states in Letter 543 (below), in fact he used gas lanterns to illuminate his work space while painting at night.

Van Gogh was pleased with his Starry Night over the Rhone painting. He mentioned it more than a half a dozen times in letters to his brother Theo and made likenesses of it in both a letter sketch as well as a drawing.

References in the Letters

Enclosed a little sketch of a square size 30 canvas, the starry sky actually painted at night under a gas jet. The sky is greenish-blue, the water royal blue, the ground mauve. The town is blue and violet, the gas is yellow and the reflections are russet-gold down to greenish-bronze. On the blue-green expanse of sky the Great Bear sparkles green and pink, its discreet pallor contrasts with the harsh gold of the gas. Two colourful little figures of lovers in the foreground.

Letter 543

Vincent's brother, Theo, was no less enthusiastic about Starry Night over the Rhone. He wrote to Vincent about it in three separate letters (below) and deemed it powerful enough to include in the Indépendents exhibition along with Irises.
Some days ago I got your consignment, which is very important; there are superb things in it. Everything arrived in good condition and without any damage. The cradle, the portrait of Roulin, the little sower with the tree, the baby, the starry night, the sunflowers and the chair with the pipe and tobacco pouch are the ones I prefer so far.

Letter T9

I have been absolutely unable to write you sooner, for the heat has been overwhelming, and I felt so weak that everything made me feel extremely tired. Now I have almost recovered from it--for good, I hope. I thank you for your letters and the fine drawings you sent me. The hospital at Arles is very remarkable, the butterfly and the branch of the eglantine are very beautiful too; simple in colour and very beautifully drawn. The last drawings give the impression of having been made in a fury, and are a bit removed from nature. I shall understand them better when I have seen one of these subjects in painting. I have invited quite a number of people to see your pictures, the Pissarros, Father Tangui, Verenskiold1, a Norwegian who has a lot of talent and who got the medal of honour in his country's section at the Universal Exhibition at Maus's.

The latter is the secretary of the "XX" at Brussels. He came to ask me whether you would be willing to send in work for their next exhibition. There is plenty of time for it, but he did not know whether he could come to Paris before the event. I told him that I did not suppose you would have any objections. He ought to invite Bernard too. In general people like the night effect and the sunflowers. I have put one of the sunflower pieces in our dining room against the mantelpiece. It has the effect of a piece of cloth with satin and gold embroidery; it is magnificent.

Letter T12

Now I still have to tell you that the exhibition of the Independents is open, and that your two pictures are there, the "Irises" and "The Starlit Night." The latter is hung badly, for one cannot put oneself at a sufficient distance, as the room is very narrow, but the other one makes an extremely good showing.

Letter T16

The Location Today

Click here to see the Starry Night over the Rhone location as it appears today. The location of the specific subject of this Van Gogh painting is very similar today compared to how it appeared in 1888. Of course modern conveniences are much in evidence, but remarkably little has changed with the distinctive shore line, the Trinquetaille bridge in the background and at night the Ursa Major constellation can still be seen reflected in the waters of the Rhone just as it was in Van Gogh's day.


1. Erik Theodor Werenskiold (11 February 1855 – 23 November 1938), a Norwegian painter and illustrator.


Owner City Country Date acquired
Johanna van Gogh-Bonger Amsterdam Netherlands  
Johan Theodoor Uiterwijk (Arts and Crafts Art Gallery) The Hague Netherlands April, 1899
Bas Veth Bussum Netherlands  
Buffa Art Gallery Amsterdam Netherlands 20 June 1922
F. Moch Paris France  
Musée d'Orsay Paris France 1975


Year City Country Venue Exhibition Name Start Date End Date No.
1889 Paris France Salles de la Sté d'Horticulture Salon des artistes indépendants 3 September 1889 4 October 1889 272
1892 Antwerp Belgium Association pour l'art Kunst van Heden, Art d'Aujourd'hui, 1ère Exposition Annuelle
1892 The Hague Netherlands Haagsche Kunstkring (Buitenhof) Werken van Vincent van Gogh 16 May 1892 6 June 1892 15
1894 Nijmegen Netherlands Societëit De Vereeniging Schilder- en beeldhouwkunst 20 June 1894 20 July 1894 51
1896 Rotterdam Netherlands Kunstzalen Oldenzeel Vincent van Gogh: fransche periode  
1901 Paris France Galerie Bernheim-Jeune Exposition d'Oeuvres de Vincent van Gogh 15 March 1901 31 March 1901 65
1905 Amsterdam Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Tentoonstelling Vincent van Gogh 15 July 1905 1 August 1905 156
1927 Paris France Galerie Bernheim-Jeune Vincent van Gogh l'époque française 20 June 1927 2 July 1927  
1931 Paris France Galerie Paul Rosenberg Oeuvres importantes de grands maitres du dix-neuvième siècle 18 June 1931 21 June 1931 43
1934 Paris France Galerie des Beaux-Arts Gauguin, ses amis, l'École de Pont-Aven et l'Academie Julian  
1936 Paris (1) France Bibliotèque Nationale Cinquantenaire du Symbolisme  
1937 Paris France Les Nouveaux Musées, Quai de Tokyo La vie et l'oeuvre de Van Gogh  
1960 Paris (1) France Musée Jacquemart-André Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890  
2000-01 Amsterdam Netherlands Van Gogh Museum Light! The Industrial Age 1750-1900. Art and Science, Technology and Society 20 October 2000 11 February 2001  
2001-02 Chicago United States Art Institute of Chicago Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South 22 September 2001 13 January 2002 65
2002 Sapporo Japan Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art Vincent & Theo van Gogh 5 July 2002 25 August 2002 35
2002 Kobe Japan Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art Vincent & Theo van Gogh 7 September 2002 4 November 2002 35
2004 Melbourne Australia National Gallery of Victoria The Impressionists: Masterpieces from the Musée d'Orsay 17 June 2004 26 September 2004  
2006-07 New York United States Metropolitan Museum of Art Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde 14 September 2006 7 January 2007 122
2007 Chicago United States Art Institute of Chicago Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde 17 February 2007 12 May 2007 122
2007 Paris (1) France Musée d’Orsay Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde 19 June 2007 16 September 2007 122
2008-09 New York United States Museum of Modern Art Van Gogh at the Colours of the Night 21 September 2008 5 January 2009 31
2009 Amsterdam Netherlands Van Gogh Museum Van Gogh at the Colours of the Night 13 February 2009 7 June 2009 49
2009-10 Canberra Australia National Gallery of Australia Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne anf Beyond. Post-Impressionism from the Musée d’Orsay. 2 December 2009 18 April 2010 49
2010-11 San Francisco United States De Young Museum Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces From the Musée d’Orsay 25 September 2010 18 January 2011  

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