pinpoints Van Gogh painting
The exact place, time and date
Vincent Van Gogh finished one of his last ever
paintings has been pinpointed by astronomers.
The White House at Night, which
was painted in the small town of Auvers-sur-Oise,
north-west of Paris, shows a small white house
at twilight under a large yellow star.
It hangs in the Hermitage Museum
in St Petersburg, where it was kept hidden for
half a century.
Astronomers at Southwest Texas
State University in San Marcos calculated that
the star is Venus, which was bright in the evening
sky in June 1890.
They started by tracing the house,
which still stands in the town.
Researchers Donald Olson and Russell
Doescher say the canvas was painted from the
bottom up during the course of an afternoon
and early evening.
“You can see it’s about 7:00 pm
from the sunlight on the house, but as the sun
sets, Venus becomes bright and obvious,” said
Mr Doescher, who added that he was astonished
by the accuracy of the star’s position in the
Professor Olsen added: “In the
painting, the light is coming from right to
left, with the front of the house lit up, the
left side of the house in shadow and the women
near the gate casting shadows to the left.
“We stood in Van Gogh’s spot and
saw exactly this lighting effect on the house
in the last hour before sunset.”
A computer program calculated
that Venus was in the position shown in the
painting at around 8:00 pm on 16 June 1890,
just six weeks before the artist killed himself.
They knew the painting was completed
before 17 June because the artist wrote to his
brother and described the work in detail.
The painting itself has had a
turbulent history. It was hidden from Nazi looters
when seized by Russian soldiers during World
It was thought lost, but re-emerged
in Russia in 1995, after the fall of the Soviet