Starry Night Tattoo Meaning, Design & Ideas

The Starry Night is Vincent van Gogh’s oil painting on canvas that has been one of the most popular pieces out there. The post-impressionist artist created this masterpiece in June of 1889 and it shows the view from a window facing east from his room in the asylum of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

This was made right before the rise of the sun and a village in the background. New York City’s Museum of Modern Art has been the home of this work of art since 1941. This piece is considered one of Van Gogh’s greatest works, therefore, making it a great option for a tattoo.

The Starry Night tattoo is popular because of the history of the piece and that it was created by one of the most creative and artistic minds ever. In addition, it happens to be a beautiful image and if captured correctly by the tattoo artist, it can be a piece that any tattoo enthusiast would be excited about for many years to come.

In this post, we will talk about Van Gogh and his The Starry Night painting. We will address the potential symbolism behind the piece and some different variations of the tattoo we have seen. We hope that by the end of this article, you feel more comfortable with what The Starry Night tattoo means to the people that wear it and how can be placed on the body.

The Asylum

Vincent van Gogh famously had a breakdown and chopped off his left ear on December 23, 1888. After this event, Van Gogh voluntarily put himself in the asylum. This was almost like a retreat for the famous painter as the Saint Paul de Mausole lunatic asylum was a former monastery and only half full as it catered to the wealthy. Therefore, Van Gogh had two rooms. One to sleep in and one to work on his craft.

During his time in the asylum, Van Gogh put out some of his best work in his collection. Continually pumping out work, Van Gogh finished the blue self-portrait in September of 1889. He finished the Irises in May of that year as well. Then he finished The Starry Night in mid-June. He wrote his brother to let him know that he had a new study of the starry sky he had been looking at.

This moment led to one of the most popular tattoos of recreated art.

The Painting

The painting itself was painted in Van Gogh’s ground-floor studio at the asylum. However, it is said that even though it was painted downstairs, the view of the painting was from his upstairs room.

Van Gogh wasn’t allowed to paint in his bedroom, however, he would make sketches with ink and charcoal on paper to take to his art studio. Van Gogh portrayed the view in various weather conditions including moonrise, sunny days, overcast days, sunrise, rainy days and windy days. The Starry Night painting combines all elements of the day and night. There were 21 versions of this piece and in fifteen of them, cypress trees are visible past the far wall.

The Starry Night Tattoo Meanings

Depending on who you talk to, The Starry Night tattoo represents different traits and meanings. Many of these thoughts come from analysis of the painting and what the colors and compositions represent. Below are some of the meanings behind the painting that one could incorporate into their tattoo.


When looking at The Starry Night painting, you will notice spinning and whirling clouds, stars that shine bright and a crescent moon that shines bright. The Starry Night painting was stylized and somewhat surreal and he even admitted to such in a letter to his brother claiming there were “exaggerations in terms of composition.”

The composition is very fluid and draws the viewer’s eye around the painting and makes you feel like you are connecting the dots. The Starry Night tattoo is symbolic of being fluid in life or creating flow. To be easygoing and go with the flow of life as the eye does in this painting.

Use of Color

Van Gogh’s use of color in this painting has been a subject of much debate. Some actually believe that Van Gogh had been suffering from a brain disease or lead poisoning to lead him to this choice of color for the painting which has been described as strange, to say the least. His use of yellow and white in the sky draws the eyes to that area while the vertical lines of the church tower and the cypress tree break up the composition a bit.

His choice of using greens and dark blues was prevalent. These dark, rich colors used to depict the night suggest strong emotion and The Starry Night tattoo could be reflective of the tattoo canvas displaying their emotion on their sleeve (no pun intended).

The Starry Night Tattoo Variations

The Starry Night tattoo has been depicted in different versions when tattooed on the body. Below are a couple of versions we have seen.

The Starry Night Sleeve Tattoo is a popular choice of placement on the body. The painting fits well in this space and almost gives the feel of looking through a window as the shape of the shoulder rounds off at the top and the sleeve suddenly ends. Because the asylum was a former monastery, the sleeve gives the feel of a mosaic window which is a very “monastery” feel.

We also see this tattoo inked in a full circle in many cases. This way of having The Starry Night tattoo inked goes with the symbolism of flow. Because the circle has no ending lines, it is representative of what some feel the painting symbolizes so they fit perfectly.

However, we have seen different variations of this tattoo and someone who is a fan of van Gogh’s work might be creative enough to figure out a new way to depict this unique tattoo. If you need help finding an artist to help make your vision come true, let us know because we would love to help.

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