1. The painting depicts Arles at night
Vincent van Gogh lived in Arles between February 1888 and May 1889. This was his final home before he checked himself into the mental hospital in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
The painting depicts the view from a quay on the east side of the River Rhône and the locations where the river bends towards the right to surround the rocks on which the town of Arles was built.
2. The location is just 2 minutes away from where he lived at the time
Van Gogh didn’t have to walk far to get to the location he placed his easel. This spot is just a two-minute walk from the Yellow House on the Place Lamartine.
This is the famous house that Vincent was renting at the time and which he painted as well. This is also the place that famous painter Paul Gauguin stayed for 9 weeks until Van Gogh had a mental breakdown culminating in him cutting off most of his left ear.
Van Gogh stayed on the ground floor which he turned into an atelier and Gauguin stayed for 9 weeks in the room with an open window on the second floor.
3. Van Gogh was obsessed with capturing the night sky
It’s clear that Vincent van Gogh was obsessed with capturing the night sky. He wrote to his brother Theo “I need a starry night with cypresses or maybe above a field of ripe wheat.” He also mentioned in a letter to fellow painter Emile Bernard “But when shall I ever paint the Starry Sky, this painting that keeps haunting me.”
His obsession didn’t stop and in September of the year 1888 he wrote to his sister “Often it seems to me night is even more richly colored than the day.”
Shortly after, he started working on fighting his demons!
4. He created an earlier painting with a similar sky
The first painting with a similar type of starry sky he created halfway through September 1888. This painting is known as “Café Terrace at Night” and depicts the northeastern corner of the Place du Forum in Arles.
Even though the focus of this painting clearly lies with the terrace itself, the starry sky is very similar to the one used in Starry Night Over the Rhône.
5. His most famous painting uses the same effects of light at night
Vincent van Gogh painted what would become his most famous painting, called simply “Starry Night,” after he checked himself into the asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in June 1889.
This was more than 9 months after he painted both Café Terrace at Night and Starry Night over the Rhône in September 1889. The resemblance of the starry night in all 3 paintings is striking!
Starry Night is on public display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
6. Starry Night over the Rhône isn’t accurate
Perhaps one of the most interesting Starry Night Over the Rhône facts is that the stars in the sky aren’t accurate. He wrote in a letter to his brother that “On the aquamarine field of the sky the Great Bear is a sparkling green and pink, whose discreet paleness contrasts with the brutal gold of the gas.”
In reality, the view we see in the painting was facing away from the painter’s perspective of the Great Bear constellation, as it’s to the north.
In both the other starry night paintings, the stars in the sky were depicted correctly.
7. The most prominent elements are the reflections of gas lights
The reason that Vincent picked this spot to capture the lights of the night is pretty obvious. It allowed him to not just capture the gas lights as they lit up the streets of the town of Arles, but also their reflections in the river.
The gas lights were something pretty new in the year 1888. In the big city of Paris, these were only installed in some places since the year 1853, and Arles was a pretty small town back then.
8. It’s about the same size as Starry Night
The Starry Night has dimensions of 73.7 × 92.1 centimeters (28.7 × 36.25 inches), and Starry Night Over the Rhône has dimensions of 72.5 × 92 centimeters (28.5 × 36.2 inches).
This means 2 of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous paintings are just about the same size!
9. Van Gogh sent a sketch of the painting to one of his friends
We all know Vincent van Gogh personally because of all the personal letters he sent to his brother, family members, and friends. One of these letters was sent to his Belgian friend and the fellow painter Eugène Boch. In it, he refers to Starry Night Over the Rhône and mentions that “The light of the town and its harsh reflections are of red gold and a green-tinged with bronze.”
He also included a sketch of the painting which he most probably made after it was created.
10. It was first exhibited in Paris in 1889
One of the most fascinating Starry Night Over the Rhône facts is that is one of the few of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings that went on public display before his death.
It was first shown at an exhibition in Paris organized by the Société des Artistes Indépendants in the year 1889. The other painting of his that was shown was “Irises,” a painting included by his brother Theo which he strangely enough objected against. He preferred one of his paintings of public gardens in Arles.
11. Starry Night over the Rhône is still on public display in Paris
The painting had been in private possession for multiple decades until it was acquired by an art gallery in Amsterdam. It wasn’t until the year 1975 that it went on public display at its current location, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
What better place for this masterpiece to be on display than to be surrounded by some of the greatest impressionist paintings in the world, right?!
12. The painting’s location is part of the “Van Gogh Tour” in Arles
Vincent van Gogh lived well over a year in Arles, and it’s the place that the defining moment of his life took place. Apart from this tragic event, it was a very prolific period for the artist as he created over 300 paintings and drawings here.
There are about 10 spots in the small town of Arles that are marked as places that van Gogh set up his easel and started creating another masterpiece.
This alone makes Arles one of the most popular destinations for art lovers!
Recognize the place below? That’s about where Vincent set up his easel to paint Starry Night Over the Rhône!