Vincent Van Gogh’s Letter to Theo on the Merchandising Potential of ‘The Starry Night’

Adam Campbell-Schmitt
3 min readMar 30, 2022

“I could really see this one taking off as a dorm room poster.”

image via pixabay

June 20, 1889

My dear Theo,

Beloved brother, I have ruminated further on the recently completed work I mentioned to you in our last correspondence, the landscape of the night sky and its moon and stars. The one in which I have endeavored to capture both the infinite depth of the heavens and the persistent motion of the celestial bodies’ transit from horizon to horizon in a single moment. Anyway, I could really see this one really taking off as a dorm room poster.

I know I have risked your disinterest by painting the same landscape over and over again with the same spired cypress trees and patch of wheat and all that. This one is different. I put a little town in. Call me crazy (that’s some asylum humor) but I get this feeling this one’s gonna be boffo.

The brushstrokes swirl and spiral, like eddies of cream as they’re stirred into black coffee. (Hey, we should slap it on some mugs!) The moon and morning star Venus, in all her glory, draw the eye around the landscape, much as I think this image would catch some admiring looks around a lady’s neck as an infinity scarf.

The principal pigments I have used are scattered dashes of ultramarine and cobalt blue in the sky, and whites and Indian yellow haloing the moon and stars. As you know, I’m a stickler for accurate depictions of color (that’s some Post-Impressionism humor) — do you think they’ll get muddied printed on the beige cotton of a tote bag?

This landscape is not so grand in scale, but grand in scope, grand in the limitless awe of nature, the night sky, and all that it contains. Still, I think it could totally fit on a keychain or fridge magnet.

Yo, what if we put this one on the underside of an umbrella? So you can look up and see the night sky, as my dreaming mind has envisaged its splendor, while you dodge the filth of horse shit-tinged puddles and gutters? Just a thought.

Despite my confidence, truthfully I know not whether this canvas constitutes my greatest work, an utter failure, or simply another of countless studies. It is not for me to say, only to…

Adam Campbell-Schmitt

A writer and editor living, laughing, and loving in the NYC suburbs. Twitter: @adamcswrites