Source of Van Gogh's Starry Night


Van Gogh likely based his famed Starry Night on this scientific illustration of the Whirlpool Galaxy by one William Parsons that appeared in a 19th century popular astronomy tome, according to Michael Benson's new book Cosmigraphics, a history of our efforts to illustrate the universe.


From Studio 360:

Among many of the beautiful depictions of galaxies made possible by increasingly powerful telescopes was one drawing of the Whirlpool Galaxy by William Parsons. That image, from the mid-19thcentury, created a sensation in the United Kingdom, Benson says. “It made its way into a French book popularizing astronomy by Camille Flammarion, the Carl Sagan of the 19th century.” And it bears a striking resemblance to Van Gogh’s spiraling stars in "Starry Night." “We believe that drawing led directly to 'Starry Night,' the most famous artistic depiction of the night sky. Either it was in the library of the asylum in the south of France, or he saw it in Paris.”

"Was Van Gogh's 'Starry Night' inspired by a scientific drawing?" by Kurt Anderson

Cosmigraphics by Michael Benson (Amazon)

Notable Replies

  1. I dunno that seems like awfully skimpy evidence. What discipline is Benson from?

  2. "There's nothing to prove he didn't see it! "

    A key linch-pin in most weird theories (see The Turin Shroud: How Da Vinci Fooled History, for example). Unless they have a citation for the book being in the asylum library, and a checkout card with VanGogh on it, I'll remain dubious.

    Interesting, though.

  3. While I have always had a soft spot for Van Gogh, I have not studied the academic research on him, so the theory I am about to type may well have been considered and dismissed by scholars much more knowledgeable than I am:

    His way of painting is what the world looks like to me without glasses/contacts, especially if you add in artistic creativity and skill. Lights, especially. Could he have been nearsighted?

  4. Seems legit. I mean, I was born in the same month and country as famed director Paul Thomas Anderson (thanks Wikipedia!), so it would be totally plausible that we're best buds.

  5. Reputable sources have already documented where his real inspiration came from. Don't let the title fool you: those aren't stars. They're UFOs.

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