Then and Now: Van Gogh’s “Starry Night over the Rhone”

Then and Now: Van Gogh’s “Starry Night over the Rhone”

The journey from Paris to Arles took four hours by TGV (fast train) – just 8 months and 135 years after Vincent Van Gogh. His journey was a lot slower, but soon we were following in his footsteps – literally.

A map from the local tourist office showed the locations where Van Gogh painted many of his iconic paintings. And about an hour after sunset – blue hour – we stepped through the gates of the medieval town wall to find ourselves looking at a surprisingly familiar looking river – it was indeed the Rhone.

Van Gogh is called an impressionist painter – with connotations of fuzzy blobs – but what is really surprising is just how accurately he painted the colours, lights and reflections on the water.

Starry Night Over the Rhone - Van Gogh
Starry Night Over the Rhone – Van Gogh [source: Wikipedia]
According to legend, Van Gogh painted this scene with three candles fixed in his hat – it makes for a romantic story, but sadly, it is just that. In reality, he stood beneath one of the newly installed gas lights – of which there were many lining the embankment – just as he painted them.

Standing where he stood, I saw at once how the street lamps cast their shimmering streaks of light upon the river below – it was clear he had captured the scene precisely as it appeared.

Not so starry night over the Rhone - [Jerry Everard]
Not so starry night over the Rhone – [Jerry Everard]
A couple of dodgy looking characters showed some interest as I set up the tripod and took out the camera, so I wasn’t keen to hang around for too long. But I still managed to take some 15 and 30 second exposures, and was pleased with the results as they appeared in the back screen of the camera.

Thin clouds masked the stars, but the blue was unmistakable. And for me, the light on the water really stood out. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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  1. Great article Jerry. Made my way here from the Problogger challenge/post. I do photography on the side too, so I can appreciate that extra steps you took to get that perfect shot, especially with those dodgy characters nearby and expensive camera gear!

    Best of luck,

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