Starry Night: Still Dazzling After 124 Years
No trip to New York is complete without a visit to MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art. I was there recently and spent a very worthwhile afternoon wandering it's six or so floors of world treasures. Its quite a wonderful experience to wander through the myriad of rooms, turn a corner and come face to face with a master piece. I think it was the 5th floor and after a hours of being delighted by Pollock, Warhol, Rothko, Picasso and Matisse. There was a huge storm outside so the ambient light had diminished in the gallery. I turned a corner and there I was standing within a metre of Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night. I remember my pulse quickening at the sight of it. What I found most remarkable of this 124 year old treasure was the vibrancy of the pigment. It is as if it was painted yesterday.
Vincent was renowned as a typical struggling artist. Having only ever sold one painting in his lifetime and spending significant time in mental institutions, he was not a man of means. Yet clearly he did not scrape on the quality of his paint. There is a great lesson in Starry Night for the modern painter. As the owner of an Art Supplies store, I watch people on a daily basis make choices of price over quality. Perhaps its because in Vincent's day the only commercially available artists paints were of high quality that as a struggling artist he was unable to buy cheaper paints.
The portable and collapsible metal tube was invented then patented in 1841 in both the USA and London. It was not long before Winsor Newton were producing oil paints in tubes. It is highly likely that Van Gogh was using Winsor Newton. The advent of the synthetic pigment has seen a range of very cheap paints but with limited archival quality. Many of these cheaper paints are designed to teach students how to apply paint with a brush rather than to be used in serious art work.
Without the use of genuine pigment paint the mastery and brilliance of Starry Night would have been lost. Artists owe it to future generations to use good quality archival paints with genuine pigment.