Van Gogh’s Starry Night reimagined as Amsterdam Light Festival installation

Serbian artists Ivana Jelić and Pavle Petrović have reimagined Van Gogh’s famous painting The Starry Night as an LED installation over the canals of Amsterdam, to highlight the issue of light pollution in urban areas.


A series of 1,400 acrylic rods illuminated by small LED lights are used to emulate Van Gogh’s impasto brushstrokes. The rods form a large-scale reproduction of a magnified section of the star-filled night sky featured in the renowned artwork.

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Image courtesy of Janus van den Eijnden

Located on a bridge at the intersection of two canals in Amsterdam, the village buildings and cypress trees found in the original painting are replaced with the Dutch city’s own merchant houses and waterways.

Jelić and Petrović used coloured LEDs to imitate the blue and yellow hues of the Starry Night image, arranging them in the swirly formations that are characteristic of the post-impressionist work.

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Just like the Van Gogh painting, the installation is set within a rectangular border in order to resemble a framed artwork from a distance.

However, as the artists explain, the transparency of the acrylic rods also allows the installation to blend in with its surroundings. By placing light sources at the end of each of the rods, the light appears differently from various angles.

“By approaching closer, visitors are able to explore each swirl as if they were witnessing the actual Starry Night,” said the artists.

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The duo designed the installation as part of the Dutch city’s light festival, which this year is centred around the theme “the medium is the message”.

The theme references a statement made by Canadian scientist Marshall McLuhan that the medium by which a message is transmitted influences how it is perceived.

According to the artists, the impact of human-derived or “anthropogenic” light on the environment has been on the rise since the late 19th century, making it almost impossible to see the stars from urban environments like Amsterdam.

By altering the medium of The Starry Night from a painting depicting natural light to an artificial light installation, Jelić and Petrović aim to give the image a new message regarding the issue of light pollution in cities and the importance of “proper lighting system design”.

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The installation was sponsored by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which holds the world’s largest collection of the Dutch artist’s works, as well as those of his contemporaries.

“Vincent van Gogh and light go hand in hand, and this installation brings Vincent’s clear starry sky to the canals of Amsterdam in a very special way,” said the museum. “We gladly contribute to letting our capital shine in the dark days of winter.”

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The installation is available to visit during the Amsterdam Light Festival, which runs until 20 January 2019.

This is not the first installation inspired by Van Gogh’s The Starry Night painting. Back in 2014 Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde created a green glow-in-the-dark cycle path in the Netherlands that features patterns based on the same artwork.

Photography is by Ivana Jelić and Pavle Petrović unless otherwise stated.

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