The Starry Night

Museum of Modern Art
53rd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues

Text and Photographs by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Natural History special issue

Part of City of Stars photo essay.

Photo of two people standing in front of and admiring The Starry Night painting.
The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, 1889.

A personal favorite, The Starry Night is, perhaps, the world’s most famous painting with a cosmic theme. Vincent van Gogh, the nineteenth-century Dutch impressionist, painted it while visiting the south of France. The stars, painted as yellow-white blobs, appear to undulate. The thin crescent Moon is almost a caricature, with its illuminated cusps almost meeting around back. It, too, appears to undulate against the dark blue sky. The painting feels as though its sky is a living, breathing entity.

If van Gogh actually saw the stars and Moon behave this way, assuming he did not suffer from a bad case of astigmatism, then that night must go down in the annals of astronomy as the worst clear-weather atmospheric disturbance ever recorded.

Much of The Starry Night’s recent fame derives from its appearance in the 1972 hit single “Vincent,” by Don McLean.