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What are the colors used in Starry Night?

What are the colors used in Starry Night?

Starry Night is one of the most famous and recognizable paintings by the Dutch Post-Impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh. Painted in June 1889, it depicts a night view from outside van Gogh’s sanitarium room window in Saint-Rémy, France. The painting is dominated by a dazzling night sky filled with swirling clouds, stars, and a crescent moon. Despite the dark blues and blacks that color the night sky, the painting has an immense vitality to it. The bright stars twinkle and blaze while the rolling, curling clouds seem to be caught in a high wind. In the foreground, the village lays at rest in the valley while the tree, hills, and cypress trees are brought to life by vigorous, dynamic brush strokes. Van Gogh used striking colors like yellows and greens to create an enchanting, dreamlike landscape. The ecstatic and emotional quality of Starry Night has made it one of the most analyzed works of art in history.

In order to understand van Gogh’s artistic choices, it is important to examine the specific colors he used to create this masterpiece. Van Gogh used a variety of blues, yellows, greens, oranges, reds, and whites to compose Starry Night’s complex night landscape. By analyzing the pigments and shades van Gogh used, we can gain insight into how he brought this serene night scene to life.


The most obvious color featured in Starry Night is blue. The night sky takes up a large portion of the background and is painted entirely in shades of blue. Van Gogh used the following blue pigments:

Prussian Blue: The vivid, deep blue used to depict the churning, cloudy skies. Prussian blue was a popular pigment in the 19th century made by mixing iron oxide with carbon compounds.

Cobalt Blue: Lighter blue shades used for the spiraling stars. Cobalt blue pigment was made by heating cobalt and aluminum oxides at extremely high temperatures. The clear, pure hues stood out against the Prussian blues.

Ultramarine: A warm, brilliant blue made from the semi-precious lapis lazuli stone that was ground into powder. Van Gogh likely chose ultramarine to paint the large star near the crescent moon.

By combining these vivid blues, van Gogh created a night sky that is filled with both energy and tranquility at the same time. The cool, calming blues convey the quiet mood of the sleeping village while the swirling clouds retain the dynamic and fluid motion that is characteristic of van Gogh’s work.


In contrast to the serene blues, van Gogh used warm yellows to portray light and energy in Starry Night. The rich yellows make the stars blaze brightly against the darker blues of the sky. Primary yellow pigments van Gogh used include:

Cadmium Yellow: Vivid, lemony shades for the large starburst shapes surrounding the moon and stars. The cadmium sulfide pigments were highly valued for their opacity and resistance to degradation.

Chrome Yellow: Also known as lemon yellow, this was mixed with white to make the paler yellow shades used in the swirling cores of the stars. Chrome yellow was made with lead chromate and provided brilliant color.

The striking yellow contrasts with the blue create a greater sense of energy and drama in the night sky. The cool blues and warm yellows complement each other and add stylistic tension. The yellows infused the serene night scene with a vital spirit and luminosity.


Van Gogh relied heavily on white pigments to add light effects and luminosity to Starry Night. He used whites to:

Brighten stars and create glows: Stars were highlighted with thick, impasto strokes of white to make them stand out against the darker blues. The white seemingly radiates out energy from the stars.

Paint the crescent moon: Cool whites were mixed with yellows to portray the glowing crescent moon. Light, white brush strokes pick out the moon shape against the blue-black sky.

Depict houses: Houses in the village were painted with thick layers of white to show rows of homes at rest. The white buildings stand out brightly against the surrounding blues and greens of the landscape.

Whites were crucial for adding drama, energy, and light effects to the night sky while also anchoring the composition by highlighting the village. Common white pigments van Gogh used included lead white, zinc white, and titanium white. The white paints were mixed with colored pigments or layered on thickly to make elements shine.


In addition to the blues and yellows that fill the sky, van Gogh integrated orange shades into the village buildings and tree outlines. Oranges heightened the emotional intensity of the scene. Specific orange pigments likely included:

Yellow Ochre: An earthy, yellow-orange iron oxide used to outline objects like the church steeple and trees. When set against the blues, the ochre outlines create striking color contrasts.

Vermilion: A vivid, warm red-orange that was mixed with yellows to portray lights in the village homes and windows. Pure vermilion was derived from the mineral cinnabar.

Chrome Orange: Made with lead chromate, this glowing orange hue was ideal for adding radiance and warmth to the windows and interiors of the town buildings.

The vivid orange shades infused the landscape with warmth and energy. Complementary colors are placed right next to each other to heighten the intensity of both hues. The contrasting blues and oranges add to the emotionally charged atmosphere of the scene.


While the sky dominates the background, van Gogh relied on green to portray the rolling landscape in the foreground of Starry Night. Key green pigments likely included:

Emerald Green: A bright, transparent green used to color the fluid, wavy hills in the foreground. Emerald green was a copper acetoarsenite pigment.

Chrome Green: The olive green shades used for the cypress trees were likely chrome green, an opaque mixture of Prussian blue and chrome yellow.

Viridian: A dark bluish-green used for the shadows and silhouettes of the crooked tree, hills, and cypress trees. Viridian was a hydrated chromium oxide that remained stable even when exposed to light.

The greens are energetic and emotive. Each brush stroke is clearly defined so the greens retain the same fluid motion of the swirling sky. The cool greens and blues contrast with the hot oranges and yellows to heighten the emotional impact.


While subtler than some of the other hues, van Gogh integrated red tones to add intensity and energy to Starry Night. Vermilion was mixed into the homes’ windows, while red ochre added definition to the crooked tree and church steeple. Red ochre was an earthy, red iron oxide. Together, the reds support the yellows to lend a dynamic, fiery spirit to the landscape.


Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night is a masterful combination of colors. Each pigment was carefully chosen for its emotive impact and ability to bring life to the night landscape. The cool, swirling blues depict the vast night sky while radiant yellows and oranges enliven the village, trees, and hills. Green shades evoke an undulating landscape that pulses with vitality. Powerful contrasts pit complementary colors against each other to add drama and intensity. Van Gogh’s creative use of color made this imaginative view of the night sky one of the most influential and recognizable works of art ever created. The vivid pigments and individual brush strokes reveal his deep connection to the dynamic beauty of nature.