Dust my eyes with myriad stars! foretold a long dead poet this week, Many ideas hung on those words but the galaxy held another. My youngest crept into my room and whispered warm and boyish into my ear There's a meteor shower in a few minutes; they say it won't be back until 2099. He knows me well, I leapt out of bed, put on some socks, a warm jacket, grabbed my glasses, woke up the rest of the family and scampered down the hall out the front door. Still sleepy and confused I looked around and no son! I found him in the back yard trying to convince himself how much better it would look on the roof. Persuaded to sit out front, my oldest joined us pulling chairs down to the end of the driveway to watch schooched topsy-turvy under a warm blanket. Hubby declined since he had to get up in an hour for a twelve hour workday.
Opportunity abounded with hundreds of wishes flying high above the neighbors imposing pine tree, out of place, a rather odd thing to see in the desert. Sometimes when the kitchen window is ajar to catch a cool breeze and a few musings much as dipping dishes into soapy water, rub then rinse the corners and crevices of each piece. All known through years of delicate touch. Hearing the wind whistle through the needles always reminds me of drowsing to the same true sounds of black berried summers in Maine. It could not help but come to mind while we claimed each streak of twinkling stripe against the deep curtain of blue behind the jutting tree and into the combustion of the sky was Van Gogh's The Starry Night. What prompted him to paint it? He surly must have felt the vastness of the universe, filled with whirling and exploding stars, beneath a macrocosm of humanity huddled in anticipation of cosmic disaster. Mysterious and flame like his cypress demands our first attention only to be forgotten as the eye trails over the cozy hamlet spy the farthermost hilly horizon and finally to that transformation of a vision that was uniquely his own.
Painted in Saint-Rémy a year before his death he was not seeking to analyze the harmony of nature. With Van Gogh's letters pinpointing the time and date Griffith Observatory (UCLA) has determined that the painting represents the predawn sky of June 19th, 1889. Informed speculators theorize about the fascinating convergence of historical forces of the day where technological wonders abounded. Jules Verne was taking readers From the Earth to the Moon and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. From an observatory atop the newly-built Eiffel Tower, people would look down upon the 1889 World's Fair, where the Third Republic was showcasing colonies in far corners of the earth. Astronomy and astrology had seized the imagination of the public. Perhaps it was a captivated Van Gogh responding to and recording these tumultuous times in The Starry Night.
'We may succeed in creating a more exciting and comforting nature than we can discern with a single glimpse of reality', he wrote to his brother, 'a kind of painting giving greater consolation.'
He considered feelings of solace should be evoked by color and designs that were representations of nature.
'The Starry Night' should be seen as ... based on religious ideas only in this specific sense.
Today The Starry Night
is a part of the collection of The Museum of Modern Art
in New York, an oil on canvas it's approximately 29" by 43¼". It is this painting more than any of his others that illustrates Van Gogh's "expressionist
" method. A rich source of his thoughts lie in the letters he wrote to his brother Theo
. His arbitrary use of colors to forcibly express himself seems to carry the meaning in this particularly poignant reflection about the immortality of the soul:
It certainly is a strange phenomenon that all artists, poets, musicians, painters, are unfortunate in material things -- the happy ones as well. What you said lately about Guy de Maupassant is fresh proof of it. That brings up again the eternal question: Is the whole of life visible to us, or isn't it rather that this side of death we see only one hemisphere?
Painters -- to take them alone dead and buried speak to the next generation or to several succeeding generations through their work.
Is that all, or is there more to come? Perhaps death is not the hardest thing in a painter's life.
For my own part, I declare I know nothing whatsoever about it, but looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. Why, I ask myself, shouldn't the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star.
Charted boat through meteors fly--
'Ere turns the first fathering thought
Of a soul and words too dark
Myriad stars dust my eyes--
dreams-fawn in stripened light,
Nebulous whispers-- joy! joy!
to a bustling tune of destiny kissed.
De La Croix, Horst, Richard D. Tansey, and Diane Kirkpatrick.
Art Through the Ages. University of Michigan: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Van Gogh: A Self Portrait, Letters Revealing His Life As a Painter, selected by W.H. Auden (New York: Dutton, 1963), p. 320.
Vincent van Gogh: