Van Gogh has long been toying with the idea of painting a night sky. Walt Whitman and Thomas Carlyle, authors that he admires, describe the starry night as ‘a manifestation of eternity’ and ‘the open secret of the mystery of the universe’. Van Gogh wants to introduce a personal sentiment into the painting.
Nocturnal light effect
The moon is just rising over the Alpilles, illuminating the wheat sheaves in the foreground. Van Gogh spends a long time working on the canvas. In the final phase, he paints a maze of small, light purple brushstrokes over the scene to enhance the nocturnal light effect. Over time, these have gradually discoloured to much whiter stripes, making the scene less ‘nocturnal’ than he had intended.
Van Gogh paints this landscape largely in his studio. He believes that painting from reality is the most important, but Gauguin encouraged him to work from imagination and memory during their brief collaboration. He is ultimately not very satisfied with the result. He finds the composition exaggerated and the style too far-fetched: it lacks ‘deeply felt lines’.