Famous Night Paintings You Need To Know About | Widewalls (2023)

Top Lists, Art History

February 7, 2022

Balasz Takac

Ever since the Mediaeval times, the artists have explored the night imagery, often informed by the superstitious belief that this time of the day is the time when evil forces come out. Influence by the dominating religious doctrines of the time, these depictions gradually evolved, moving to more profane themes that included different treatment of the landscape, sky, and the moonlight.

We have selected nine night paintings made by the world’s most iconic artists, illustrating the diversity of the subject.

Featured image: James Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket (detail), c. 1875.Captions, via Creative Commons

Rembrandt, The Night Watch,1642

Created by by the famous artist,Rembrandt van Rijn, the paintingMilitia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocqis better known as The Night Watch.This staggering canvas captures an almost threatening presence of the group of men in the night. Commissioned around 1639 by Captain Banninck Cocq and the members of his civic militia guards, the Kloveniers, itwas executed by the artist in 1642.This colossal painting, celebrated as one of the most famous Dutch Golden Age paintings, is characterized by an impressive use of tenebrism.

The Night Shift is held in the collection of the Amsterdam Museum but is prominently displayed in the Rijksmuseum.

Featured image: Rembrandt - The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburgh, known as the Night Watch, 1642. Oil on canvas. Dimensions: Height: 379.5 cm (12.4 ft); Width: 453.5 cm (14.8 ft). Collection Rijksmuseum. Captions, via Creative Commons

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Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare, 1781

In 1781, an Anglo-Swiss painter Henry Fuseli produced The Nightmare, a macabre depiction of a woman in deep sleep and an incubus crouched on her chest. Besides the apparent evocation of the erotic and the sublime, this night painting seems to have anticipated Romanticism as an art movement. After it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London, it became sort of a hit, and was even appropriated for the political satire and was made into an engraved version that was widely distributed.

Featured image: Henry Fuseli - The Nightmare, 1781. Oil on canvas. Dimensions: Height: 101.6 cm (40 in); Width: 127 cm (50 in). Collection Detroit Institute of Arts. Captions, via Creative Commons

Francisco Goya, Witches’ Sabbath, 1797–1798

Created in 1798,Francisco Goya's bewildering Witches' Sabbath is related to the artist’s general interest in the witchcraft imagery mostly explored through his Black Paintings series. They were made as a critical response to the Spanish Inquisition which pursued Witch hunts throughout the 17th century. The nightpainting was purchased in 1798 along with five other witchcraft paintings by the Duke and Duchess of Osuna. In the 20th century, this night painting was bought by the wealthy businessman, José Lázaro Galdiano who eventually donated it to the Spanish state upon his death.

Today,painting Witches' Sabbath is part of the Museo Lázaro Galdiano collection in Madrid.

Featured image: Francisco Goya – Witches Sabbath, 1797–1798. Oil on canvas. Dimensions: Height: 43 cm (16.9 in); Width: 30 cm (11.8 in) Collection Museo Lazaro Galdiano. Captions, via Creative Commons

Jean-François Millet, Starry Night, c. 1850-1865

Between 1850 and 1865, the prominent member of the Barbizon school, Jean-Francois Millet, created this captivating painting titled the Starry Night. The artist observed the sky and represented it almost astronomically accurate. He loved gazing at the stars, and the love for nighttime enabled him to articulate his memories and direct observations in a painterly form.

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Starry Night is one of Millet's few sole landscape paintings and is held at the Yale University Art Gallery.

Featured image: Jean-François Millet - Starry Night (Millet), c. 1850-1865. Oil on canvas. Dimensions: Height: 65.4 cm (25.7 in); Width: 81.3 cm (32 in). Collection Yale University Art Gallery. Captions, via Creative Commons

James Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold – The; Falling Rocket, c. 1875

Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket is a captivating oil painting made in 1875 by James Abbott McNeill Whistler. It is one of two paintings (the other being Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Firewheel) inspired by the Cremorne Gardens, a posh London resort. With this painting, that exemplified the Art for art's sake movement, Whistler perfectly captured fireworks in the night sky above the industrial city park by producing a rather abstract composition.

Painting Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket is held in the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Featured image: James Whistler - Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket, c. 1875. Oil on canvas, 60.3 cm × 46.6 cm (23.7 in × 18.3 in). Collection Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit. Captions, via Creative Commons

Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night, 1889

Painted in 1889,Vincent van Gogh's mesmerizing landscape paintingStarry Nightmarkeda breaking point in the artist’s life – the time he spent in the asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. This iconic Modernist painting depicts stars and the moon a moment just before sunrise and is characterized by differents shades of blue.

Since 1941,Starry Nightpainting by Vincent van Gogh is held in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Featured image: Vincent Van Gogh - Starry Night, 1889. Oil on canvas, Height: 73 cm (28.7 in); Width: 92 cm (36.2 in). Collection Museum of Modern Art. Captions, via Creative Commons

Camille Pissarro, The Boulevard Montmartre at Night, 1897

In 1897, one of the leading proponents of Impressionism, Camille Pissarropainted this cityscape as part of a series of14 views of the Boulevard Montmartre the artist has executed throughout the same year. He was entranced by the different types of artificial light, especially the electric street lamps along the center of the painting.

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The Boulevard Montmartre at Night is the only example of a night art by Pissarro and is held at the National Gallery in London.

Featured image: Camille Pissarro - The Boulevard Montmartre at Night, 1897. Oil on canvas, Height: 53.5 cm (21 in); Width: 65 cm (25.5 in). Collection National Gallery. Captions, via Creative Commons

Henri Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897

TitledThe Sleeping Gypsy, this paintingwas produced by Henri Rousseau in 1897. It embodied a general fascination of the Parisien art circles at the time with the Romany people, perceived as the wanderers and bohemians. In fact,The Sleeping Gypsy features an exotic desire that stands at the core of modern art, while anticipating a set of ideas that were explored more thoroughly later by the Surrealists.

This painting is held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Featured image: Henri Rousseau - The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897–1897. Oil on canvas, Height: 129.5 cm (50.9 in); Width: 200.7 cm (79 in). Collection Museum of Modern Art. Captions, via Creative Commons

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942

Painted byEdward Hopperin 1942,Nighthawksis a perplexing depiction of people in a restaurant at night. It evokes a gloomy atmosphere typical of the Noir film popular at the time. An actual portrait of urban living inspired by Ernest Hemingway's stories, it is widely acknowledged as Hopper's best-known work, as well as one of the most recognizable paintings in American art.

Painting Nighthawks is held at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Featured image: Edward Hopper - Nighthawks, 1942. Oil on canvas. Dimensions: 84.1 cm (33.1 in) × 152.4 cm (60.0 in). Collection Art Institute of Chicago. Captions, via Creative Commons

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