Compare and Contrast Essay: Van Gogh's 'The Starry Night' and Salvador Dali's 'Persistence of Time'

The focus of the paper is to make a comparison and highlight contrasts between Van Gogh's 'Starry Night' and Salvador Dali's 'Persistence of time'. While Gogh's theme formed the basis of expressionism in twentieth century, Dali initially became a leader of the Surrealist movement and later on developed interests in psychology and science, both movements influencing their beliefs and formal approaches in distinctive ways.

Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh, the post-Impressionist artist, is the most famous and well-renowned of all modern Dutch painters. He started painting in his last ten years of life, however failed to sell any of his nine hundred paintings during his life. His drawings and oil paintings are now regarded as one of the best known and most expensive art-works in the world. Most of his pictures can easily be recognized from the broad brushstrokes of thick impasto paint. It was applied by Van Gogh like a sculptor slapping clay on to a relief. Among his most influential models of 'Expressionism' his masterpieces comprise; 'The Starry Night, The Potato Eaters, and various sunflowers' along with many self-portraits. He left a huge collection of almost nine hundred paintings and more than one thousand sketches and drawings, most of them painted in his last years. (Thomson, 2008)

Theme of Van Gogh and Expressionism

During his two-year stay in Paris, Impressionism existed as a high-fashion in the artistic circles. Vincent absorbed most of their methods and started developing his distinctive way of art. He changed his brushwork and his vision became less traditional while his tonalities lighter. This style of 'post-impressionist' sparkled in masterpieces like 'Self-Portrait' and 'Portrait of Pere Tanguy'. Gogh's formal distortions as well as humanistic concerns made him a famous and pioneer of 20th century expressionism. Expressionism was an artistic movement that focused on expression of the experience by the artist. The movement of expressionism traces its origins to the decade of 1880; however it did not transformed into a distinctive style until the year 1905. Gogh is regarded as the most significant forerunner of Expressionism who exaggerated natural appearances to express the terrible passions of humans.

Gogh was unknown at the time of his death; however his reputation swiftly grew after that and his entire work made a huge impact at several exhibitions in the early years of the twentieth century. His initial retrospective after the start of twentieth-century was in Paris in 1901 at the Galerie Berhheim-Jeune. This exhibition along with the exhibition at the Salon des Independants in the year 1905 were significant in the development of Fauvism. In the same year, a huge exhibition of Vincent's work was held in Amsterdam. His influence then travelled to reach England with the first Post-Impressionist exhibition of RogerFry in 1910. He was also the leading artist at the Sonderbund exhibition in the year 1912 and was also represented at the Armory Show in 1913 at New York. (Thomson, 2008)

Starry Night and Style of Van Gogh

The 'Starry Night' is considered as the most famous oil painting of Van Gogh. It shows a typical moonlit scene in Saint-Remy asylum's neighborhood where he stayed for more than a year during his last period of life. It is pertinent to mention that a comparison of Starry Night has been made to a photograph of a star branded as V838 Monocerotis that was taken in 2004 by the Hubble telescope. The clouds of gas encircling the star are similar to the swirling patterns used by van Gogh in this painting. 'Starry Night' is regarded as the most famous images in modern cultures. It is also considered as one of the most replicated as well as sought after prints. In real sense, there are many distinctive aspects that intrigue those viewing this image. Each factor impacts every person in a different way. The painting shows a night sky in which stars ablaze with their luminescence, swirling clouds covering sky, and a bright crescent moon. Even though, the characteristics are overstated and exaggerated, the scene provides the viewer a feeling of comfort. Viewer's eyes roam about the painting, following curves and eventually creating a visual dot to dot along with stars. It is this movement that keeps the viewer engaged and involved in the painting. (Thomson, 2008)

There is a small town below the hills of the horizon and a peaceful essence is conveyed from the structures. The cool dark colors used by Gogh along with fiery windows, in fact, remind its viewer the memories flowing from the childhood years filled with imagination of the night-scene and dark starry skies. The focal-point of the town is the steeple of the church overshadowing smaller buildings. On the left side of the painting is a huge dark structure that creates a sense of isolation and greater size. This structure is superb when a comparison is made to the scale of different other objects in the painting. Furthermore, the curving lines create the feeling of depth in the painting.

Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali was born in a small agricultural town of Figueres, Spain on May 11, 1904. Dali spent his boyhood in Figueres and also at the summer home in Cadaques- a coastal fishing village. He along with his wife Gala made his home in nearby Port Lligat. Most of his paintings show his love of this part of Spain. He acquired global fame when three of his paintings were shown in the third annual Carnegie International Exhibition in Pittsburgh in the year 1928.

Theme of Dali and Art Movement in Comparison with Van Gogh

Contrary to Gogh, who is considered as the pioneer of expressionism in twentieth century, Dali initially became a leader of the Surrealist movement. His painting 'The Persistence of Time' with the melting or soft watches is regarded as one of the best ever surrealist works. However, as the war approached, a clash occurred between Dali and the Surrealists. Consequently, he was expelled from the group of surrealist in 1934. Nevertheless, he did exhibit works in several global surrealist exhibitions in the decade of 1930, but by the year 1940, Dali was moving into entirely new type of painting with a preoccupation of religion or science.

The Starry Night by Van Gogh shows the imaginative theme of the artist and painted in an asylum in 1889. Dali, however in his classic era, started his series of nineteen canvases most of them showing historical or religious theme. While Gogh was specifically expressionist, Dali was not confined to any specific media or style. The body of his work, contrary to Van Gogh, ranging from early period of impressionist paintings through his surrealist works and into his classical period shows a continuously evolving and growing artist. He worked in every media leaving behind him a wealth of watercolors, oils, graphics, drawings, films, sculptures, performance pieces, photographs, jewels as well as objects of all descriptions. He explored all areas of one's own life and to provide them artistic expression. Both Van Gogh and Salvador worked with pure inspiration or on a custom-made illustration. Although Van Gogh's work was recognized after his death, Dali became known during his lifetime. Dali's symbolic complexity along with matchless insight is apparent from his works. Both artists are known for their excellence as creativity that will always set a high standard for the art of the future. (Lear, 1987)

Salvador Dali's 'Persistence of Time' and Van Gogh's 'Starry Night'

The 'Persistence of Time' is regarded as one of the most famous paintings of Salvador Dali. The painting is rendered in the hallmark yellow, faint brown and blue colors and has earned a world-wide recognition for Dali. Like Gogh's 'Starry Night' that shows typical moonlit scene in Saint-Remy asylum's neighborhood where he stayed for more than a year during his last period of life, Dali's painting resemble Port Lligat, his home. Dali uses sandy beaches and other imagery to which he had been exposed as a child in his home town. Similar to Gogh's 'Starry Night', the 'Persistence of Time' could have several interpretations. Although, some could be more meaningful, others remain elusive. The images of the melting clock in painting are no more that themes impacted by the Camembert cheese left for a longer period of time on the table o a sunny day. (Lear, 1987)

The contents of Dali's 'Persistence of Time' are not only enigmatic but open to interpretation. Contrary to Van Gogh, Dali was also a philosopher, besides an artist as mostly known. While Gogh's was expressionist, Dali was initially a surrealist and later on developed interests in psychology and science. 'Persistence of Time' is no more than a collection of theme that are perception of time, reality, death, birth, and sexual desire. Orange clock placed on the rectangular table-like object is attacked by the ants show the anxiety related with time. As such it is logical to believe that even if only on subconscious level that on a particular day everybody is going to die. This specific psychology as well as understanding of the reality of death could configure the viewer's behavior. Furthermore, Dali uses light in the painting, in contrast to Gogh's 'Starry Night', for communicating themes of this painting.


On the basis of the arguments presented in the paper, it can be concluded that Van Gogh's 'Starry Night' and Salvador's 'Persistence of Time' although had some common aspects, themes of both Van Gogh and Salvador differ. While Gogh was an expressionist, Dali was initially a surrealist and later on developed interest in psychology and science, both movements influencing their beliefs and formal approaches in distinctive ways.




Works Cited


Lear, A (1987) Persistence of Memory: A Personal Biography of Salvador Dali, National Press



Thomson, R (2008) Vincent Van Gogh: The Starry Night, The Museum of Modern Art, New