Starry Nights

The rim of our own Milky Way starwheel runs across the sky like a shining river of light. This Milky-white sky-river was described with a painter's eye by Vincent van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo:

One night I went for a walk by the sea along the empty shore. It was not gay, but neither was it sad--it was--beautiful. The deep blue sky was flecked with clouds of a blue deeper than the fundamental blue of intense cobalt, and others of a clearer blue, like the blue whiteness of the Milky Way. In the blue depth the stars were sparkling--greenish, yellow, white, rose--brighter; flashing more like jewels than they do at home . . . opals you might call them; emeralds, lapis, rubies, sapphires.
  1. What correspondences do you see between the verbal description just quoted and the visual expression (the painting above)?


  2. Compare the paint-strokes Van Gogh used to paint the stars and heavenly lights with the way he painted the village lights. Would you have painted the village lights the way he did?


  3. Look closely at the Moon.
    1. What is unusual about his portrait of the moon?
    2. What phase is his moon in?
    3. Why might Van Gogh have represented the Moon this way?
      • Hint: Once you understand the phases of the moon, read about earthshine.


  4. What do you think is depicted by the glow of yellowish light above the horizon?


  5. Find two silver swirls of paint in the middle of the picture. What might they represent?


  6. Remember some starry night when you observed the sky. Observe the textures and brush-strokes of Van Gogh's painting technique. How does this painting make you feel about your experience of starry nights?