Zoom Into a Super High Resolution Photo of Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night”

“Just as we take the train to get to Taras­con or Rouen, we take death to reach a star,” Vin­cent Van Gogh wrote to his broth­er from Arles in the sum­mer of 1888:

What’s cer­tain­ly true in this argu­ment is that while alive, we can­not go to a star, any more than once dead we’d be able to take the train.

The fol­low­ing sum­mer, as a patient in the asy­lum of Saint-Paul-de-Mau­sole in Provence, he paint­ed what would become his best known work — The Star­ry Night.

The sum­mer after that, he was dead of a gun­shot wound to the abdomen, com­mon­ly believed to be self-inflict­ed.

Judg­ing from thoughts expressed in that same let­ter, Van Gogh may have con­ceived of such a death as a “celes­tial means of loco­mo­tion, just as steam­boats, omnibus­es and the rail­way are ter­res­tri­al ones”:

To die peace­ful­ly in old age would be to go there on foot.

Although his win­dow at the asy­lum afford­ed him a sun­rise view, and a pri­vate audi­ence with the promi­nent morn­ing star he men­tioned in anoth­er let­ter to Theo, Star­ry Night’s vista is “both an exer­cise in obser­va­tion and a clear depar­ture from it,” accord­ing to 2019’s MoMA High­lights: 375 Works from The Muse­um of Mod­ern Art:

The vision took place at night, yet the paint­ing, among hun­dreds of art­works van Gogh made that year, was cre­at­ed in sev­er­al ses­sions dur­ing the day, under entire­ly dif­fer­ent atmos­pher­ic con­di­tions. The pic­turesque vil­lage nes­tled below the hills was based on oth­er views—it could not be seen from his window—and the cypress at left appears much clos­er than it was. And although cer­tain fea­tures of the sky have been recon­struct­ed as observed, the artist altered celes­tial shapes and added a sense of glow.

Those who can’t vis­it MoMA to see The Star­ry Night in per­son may enjoy get­ting up close and per­son­al with Google Arts and Cul­ture’s zoomable, high res dig­i­tal repro­duc­tion. Keep click­ing into the image to see the paint­ing in greater detail.

Before or after for­mu­lat­ing your own thoughts on The Star­ry Night and the emo­tion­al state that con­tributed to its exe­cu­tion, get the per­spec­tive of singer-song­writer Mag­gie Rogers in the below episode of Art Zoom, in which pop­u­lar musi­cians share their thoughts while nav­i­gat­ing around a famous can­vas.

Bonus! Throw your­self into a free col­or­ing page of The Star­ry Night here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

A Gallery of 1,800 Gigapix­el Images of Clas­sic Paint­ings: See Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Ear­ring, Van Gogh’s Star­ry Night & Oth­er Mas­ter­pieces in Close Detail

Vin­cent Van Gogh’s “The Star­ry Night”: Why It’s a Great Paint­ing in 15 Min­utes

1,000+ Art­works by Vin­cent Van Gogh Dig­i­tized & Put Online by Dutch Muse­ums: Enter Van Gogh World­wide

Rare Vin­cent van Gogh Paint­ing Goes on Pub­lic Dis­play for the First Time: Explore the 1887 Paint­ing Online

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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