The Starry Night is Van Gogh's most famous and recognizable work, and indeed one of the most popular paintings of all time. The colors are shockingly vivid, thanks to the use of a rare and mysterious pigment.
The Starry Night depicts the view over a cypress tree and quaint European village dominated by turbulent night sky and psychadelic moon and stars. It is the third and final in a series of paintings Van Gogh called "night studies". The other two night paintings by Van Gogh - Cafe at Night and Starry Night over the Rhone - share the same style and color palette.
Van Gogh painted The Starry Night while voluntarily interred in a French "insane asylum" after cutting off his left ear. Having his own studio at the asylum, Van Gogh created many of his most famous works during this period. Suprisingly, Van Gogh thought little of The Starry Night, calling it a "failure" in letters to his brother and delaying its shipment to Paris simply to save money on postage.
While this painting is often held as an example of Van Gogh's body of work, in fact The Starry Night is one of the few paintings where the artist allowed himself to stray into the fantastical. While the perspective is based on the view of a cypress tree from his bedroom window at the asylum, the village is as much a product of Van Gogh's imagination as the glorious night sky. His earlier paintings of this same view, done in the open air, show a much more subdued landscape of wheat fields and blue skies.
For the bright hues in the moon and stars Van Gogh used a rare and expensive pigment called "Indian Yellow", which was imported directly from India. The impressive qualities of Indian Yellow were rumored to be thanks to the urine of cows that have been fed only mango leaves.
Van Gogh's The Starry Night is currently held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.