Astronomers have figured out the exact hour when Vincent Van Gogh created his painting “White House at Night” because they have been able to identify a star in the painting as the planet Venus.
This painting shows a white house at twilight with a prominent yellow star in the sky. The painting surfaced in 1995, after being hidden from the Nazis since the 1930s.
Van Gogh painted 5 pictures of the night sky and astronomers have been astounded by their accuracy. “I was surprised his paintings have such a strong basis in reality,” says Donald Olson of Southwest Texas State University.
Olson and fellow astronomer Russell Doescher say that the position of Venus in the painting means it was painted at 7 p.m. on June 16, 1890, six weeks before Van Gogh committed suicide. On that date, Venus was very bright in the sky.
Last summer, Olson traveled to Auvers in France, where Van Gogh was living when he made the painting. He and his students located the white house that is shown in the painting, so Olson could find out in which direction the artist was facing when he painted it. He believes it was painted from the bottom up during the afternoon and early evening. “You can see it’s afternoon from the shadows, but Venus didn’t rise until after sunset,” he says.
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