Sunday, January 9, 2011

Starry Night in San Francisco

This weekend, we spent a day in San Francisco and saw Part II of the Impressionist Exhibit at the De Young Museum. This later half included a few later paintings by Cezanne, Renoir and some of the original Impressionist artists; but mostly showed how the painters who came after them took what their predecessors had done and came up with their own style.

Movements by the Nabi, Symbolists, and Pointillist groups were described, and crowds came out to view major works by Gauguin, Van Gogh, and more. Tickets got quite difficult to come by, and tickets for Saturday sold out a week beforehand. By far, the most crowded wing was that spotlighting the work of Van Gogh.

Above is a self-portrait by the artist, whose painting career lasting a surprisingly brief 10 years, during which he was plagued by unpopularity both with the public and with other painters due to his eccentric ways. (He died at age 37.) Up close, his eyes look like two hollow holes drilled into his face.

While living in Paris as a painter (a painting of his own room above), Van Gogh was financially dependent on his brother Theo, who supported him both monetarily and through letters of encouragement. Over 600 of their letters still exist today, providing great insight concerning Van Gogh's intention in his paintings.

In Starry Night Over the Rhone, Van Gogh used the stars to represent the heavens and the gaslights below to symbolize the world of men. A pair of lovers witness the night at the bottom of the canvas.

As I waded through the crowd to see the Van Goghs, I heard an intelligent-sounding woman discoursing upon the background of Van Gogh's work and painting style. I turned around, thinking perhaps a tour group was being conducted. Instead, I saw a middle-aged woman (mom? grandma?) leading a small girl, 7 at oldest, towards the famous display.

I had to smile at that. Maybe she is the kind of person who burns with a desire to let everyone know how much she knows (even a child who would probably rather be watching SpongeBob Squarepants that morning). Or perhaps she is a proud (grand?)parent yearning to imbue her offspring with her hard-earned knowledge of art.

The last exchange I heard was the woman explaining why the public disliked Van Gogh's work, how they thought the thick paint he slathered on the canvas was wasteful. The girl looked at the canvas, considered it; then piped up, "Well, I like it!" I couldn't agree with her more.


  1. I love Starry Starry Night! I saw it in the MOMA years ago. I wish I could go to SF and see it again.

  2. I love the blue under Van Gogh's eyes in his portrait. Also, it's hard to beat any of his starry night paintings:)


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