Painting of the Day

16 Nov



Starry Night. by Edvard Munch. Oil on canvas, 1893. Currently at the Getty Center, Los Angeles, California. 

Notes from the Getty Center website,

This night landscape represents the coastline at Åsgårdstrand, a small beach resort south of Oslo in Norway, where Edvard Munch spent his summers from the 1880s onward. Here Munch tried to capture the emotions called forth by the night rather than to record its picturesque qualities. The color blue conveys the mysticism and melancholy of the landscape, which seems full of premonitions. An abstract mound at the right represents a clump of trees; a white fence runs diagonally in front. The vaguely defined shape on the fence may be a shadow of two lovers, a recurring theme in Munch’s work. He used an undulating line to depict the shoreline that continues into the trees at the right. Stars reflect in the water, and a flash of light in the trees shines brightly.

Varying thicknesses of blue and green paint are blended together to form the impression of a night sky. Some areas are thickly painted, while others are left bare to convey the lighter segments of the sky or a celestial phenomenon. 

My comments:

This is a much lesser-known Starry Night. I had never heard of it myself until it appeared on Art of the Day, which is part of the ArtFinder app that you can acquire, for free for your iPhone (I highly recommend the app by the way). I’ve never seen the painting either since I’ve never been to California, but since the painting is 53 3/8 x 55 1/8 in in area I imagine it’s quite larger than it appears here and would make a strong impression on viewers. Munch is singularly known for his iconic painting The Scream, but this painting, which is at once representational and abstract demonstrates that Munch wasn’t a one-hit wonder in the realm of art. It’s interesting to compare Munch’s Starry Night to Van Gogh’s Starry Night, for they are completely different in their formal construction and will leave viewers with starkly contrasting interpretations of the night sky. Whereas in Van Gogh’s painting the stars are very much exaggerated and are at center stage in his painting, the stars are little white specks that don’t even cover the whole sky in Munch’s version and are only noticeable after close study of the painting. Both paintings are landscapes, but Van Gogh gives viewers the vantage point of that of a bird flying over a village, while in Munch’s painting we are standing on a beach with the sky above us. Van Gogh uses many blues and greens, but also employs bright whites and yellows. Munch, on the other hand, utilizes a completely dark palette of deep blues and purples, with a dimmmed white for a fence and a bit of brown and forest green for the earth.

In both paintings, there are no distinct human figures, and although there’s speculation that the vague dark mound in Munch’s painting is the shadow of two lovers, I think that this doesn’t add a feeling of being of the presence of other people. Effectively viewers are left alone, surveying the sky when the light of the sun doesn’t reach it, a time that somehow gives everything this ineffable quality which daylight can never provide. 


 The Starry Night. by Vincent Van Gogh. Oil on canvas, 1889. Currently at the Museum of Modern Art, NYC.

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