Page last updated at 14:27 GMT, Wednesday, 8 October 2008 15:27 UK

Secrets of Van Gogh's night works

The Starry Night was painted while Van Gogh was in a mental hospital

An exhibition that shows the techniques Vincent van Gogh used to paint his famous nocturnal scenes has opened at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

Van Gogh and the Colours of the Night features 23 paintings, including The Starry Night.

It studies how the Dutch master figured out how to paint by moonlight and the colouring techniques he invented to replicate the night sky on canvas.

The exhibit will remain at the New York museum until 5 January.

Illumination

The show begins with early paintings from around 1880 when van Gogh was still living in the Netherlands.

The landscapes are flat, with muted colours and a sombre mood.

It was only after he encountered impressionism in Paris that the artist adopted the vibrant palette and thick, rhythmic brushstrokes that marked his later style.

Night (After Millet)
Van Gogh's earlier paintings were mute and sombre

One masterpiece, Cafe Terrace at Night, was created when the painter defeated the darkness by setting up his easel under the outdoor gas lamps of a cafe.

He also positioned himself on the bank of a river, where the distant lights provided enough illumination for him to paint Starry Night over the Rhone.

The most famous of his night scenes, Starry Night, was painted while he was in an asylum and forbidden to go out at night.

Its swirling brushstrokes and eerie luminescence depict a skyline largely drawn from the artist's memories of Provence.

It was one of van Gogh's last great paintings before he killed himself in 1890 at the age of just 37.




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