The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in Art & History

Starry Night Over the Rhône

Starry Night Over the Rhone

“Starry Night Over the Rhône” is one of Vincent van Gogh’s most popular paintings.  The painting of Arles at night time, was painted from the quay on the east side of the Rhône River. This spot was only a two-minute walk from the Yellow House on the Place Lamartine which Van Gogh was renting at the time.

Van Gogh described this painting in a letter to his brother Theo:

” ….  in short the starry sky painted by night, actually under a gas jet. The sky is aquamarine, the water is royal blue, the ground is mauve. The town is blue and purple. The gas is yellow and the reflections are russet gold descending down to green-bronze. On the aquamarine field of the sky the Great Bear is a sparkling green and pink, whose discrete paleness contrasts with the brutal gold of the gas.”

The blue colours are prominent with Prussian blue, ultramarine and cobalt. The city gas lights glimmer with an intense orange and are reflected in the water. The stars sparkle like gemstones.  The effects of light in the night sky provided the fertile subject matter for Van Gogh’s imagination and resulted in some of his most famous paintings, including:

Vincent Willem van Gogh - Cafe Terrace at Night (Yorck)

“Cafe Terrace at Night” at the Kröller-Müller Museum 

Van Gogh - Starry Night - Google Art Project

“The Starry Night” at Museum of Modern Art. NY

Before any of these paintings were painted, Van Gogh wrote to his sister:

“Often it seems to me, night is even more richly coloured than day”. 

Van Gogh painted “Cafe Terrace at Night” first, where the night sky was not the dominant feature. Then he painted “Starry Night Over the Rhône” where the night sky became more dominant. The atmosphere pleasant and serene with two lovers at the bottom of the painting.

A few months later, Van Gogh was confined to a mental institution, where he painted “The Starry Night” in which his distress was expressed in trees shaped like flames and the night sky and stars whirl in a cosmic vision. The night sky was now the dominant feature.

Before this troubled period, Van Gogh was pleased with his “Starry Night over the Rhone” painting, as he mentioned it admiringly several times in letters to his brother Theo and he made rough copies of it in a letter sketch as well as in a drawing.

I can visualise Van Gogh smiling as he reflected on his Rhône painting.


Essential Facts:

  • Title:               Starry Night Over the Rhône
  • Artist:             Vincent van Gogh
  • Year:                1888
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions   72.5 cm × 92 cm (28.5 in × 36.2 in)
  • Museum:         Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Artist Essential Facts:


“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” Vincent van Gogh



Photo Credit: 1)  Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 2) Vincent van Gogh [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 3) Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons