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Vincent Van Gogh at the MoMA – on Art Google

Vincent van Gogh [pronounced:  [vɑn ˈɣɔχ] ( listen)] was a Dutch painter born in humble circumstances in the Netherlands. Few portraits of the artist are known, and because of their extreme rarity, the photograph at left by Victor Morin, c. 1886, Brussels, and discovered early 1990s, remains questioned by experts as to whether it’s van Gogh’s portrait.

The legends of van Gogh’s life and work are romantic and colorful in the history of 19th- and 20th-century art. In the popular view, van Gogh has become the prototype of the misunderstood, tormented artist, who sold only one work in his lifetime—but whose Irises (sold New York, Sotheby’s, 11 Nov 1987) achieved a record auction sale price of £49 million. Romantic clichés suggest that van Gogh paid with insanity for his genius, which was understood only by his supportive brother Theo (1857–91). A colleague and close friend of Gauguin, van Gogh was active as an artist for only ten years, before his death, during which time he produced some 1000 watercolours, drawings and sketches and about 1250 paintings ranging from a dark, Realist style to an intense, expressionistic one. Almost more than on his oeuvre, his fame has been based on the extensive, diary-like correspondence he maintained, in particular with his brother.

We love the ideas supporting the Art Genome project engineered by Google, especially, the immediate benefit of exploring museums from around the world, discovering and viewing hundreds of artworks at incredible zoom levels. One can even create and share one’s personal collection of masterpieces.

On this link, for example, is the page for the MoMA on Art Google, with Vincent’s (Vincent Van Gogh) timeless work, The Starry Night (La unit étoilée), 1889. Oil on canvas. Height : 73.70 cm. Width : 92.10 cm. Located in: Gallery 1. The painting’s history, also available, imparting an excellent record of information for this artwork.

Van Gogh’s night sky is a field of roiling energy. Below the exploding stars, the village is a place of quiet order. Connecting earth and sky is the flamelike cypress, a tree traditionally associated with graveyards and mourning. But death was not ominous for van Gogh. “Looking at the stars always makes me dream,” he said, “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.

The artist wrote of his experience to his brother Theo: “This morning I saw the country from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big.” This morning star, or Venus, may be the large white star just left of center in The Starry Night. The hamlet, on the other hand, is invented, and the church spire evokes van Gogh’s native land, the Netherlands. The painting, like its daytime companion, The Olive Trees, is rooted in imagination and memory. Leaving behind the Impressionist doctrine of truth to nature in favor of restless feeling and intense color, as in this highly charged picture, van Gogh made his work a touchstone for all subsequent Expressionist painting.

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 35

Today the response The Starry Night provokes is based in part upon its celebrity, but also on its universality. Throughout the ages people have been drawn to the night sky, to its stillness, sublimity, and infinitude, which together evoke in us emotions of peace and humility, awe and wonder. In The Starry Night, van Gogh fused those feelings with a sense of the surging energies of terrestrial nature, which he conveyed—in terms of his own style—with the confidence of his composition, the dynamism of his brush, and the resonance of his color. Painted from memories of observed experience, recollections of pictures seen long ago, and in creative competition with colleagues whose new work van Gogh could only imagine, The Starry Night is a painting made on the edge, by confidently taking risks. In isolation he created a work entirely and unforgettably in his own style.

From Richard Thomson, Vincent van Gogh: The Starry Night, New York: The Museum of Modern Art (2008)

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