Dating Van Gogh's "Moonrise"
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Art historians have long agreed that Vincent van Gogh painted his spectacular Starry Night between June 16 and 18, 1889, in the town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in southern France. Evidence for pinning down the when and where of van Gogh's works comes largely from his own correspondence with his relatives and colleagues. Sometimes there are other clues within the works of art themselves. As astronomers, we have a keen interest when the paintings' subjects include objects in the sky.
Previously, we identified Venus as the heavenly object in van Gogh's White House at Night, painted in northern France (S&T: April 2001, page 34). During our research for that project, we became interested in another astronomical painting from Saint-Rémy that had an uncertain date. This painting, known as F735, shows wheat stacks in a field enclosed by a stone wall and, in the twilight sky, a prominent orange disk partly hidden behind a mountain range. Once again, astronomical calculations helped eliminate the ambiguity.