In his tortured struggle between art and madness, the latter apparently won that fateful July night when Vincent Van Gogh put a revolver to his chest and committed suicide.
What few realize though, is that even when his art was triumphing — as it did in every single canvas — science was apparently not far behind.
In the characteristic thick, frenzied swirls of White House at Night, one of Van Gogh's most elusive paintings, scientists have found the Dutch impressionist rendered his celestial bodies just right.
So right that Donald Olson and Russell Doescher, professors of physics at Southwest Texas State University, found they could figure the place and time — almost down to the minute — that Van Gogh was painting.
Around 7 p.m. on June 16, 1890.
Telling The Stars
It was the stars that guided Olson, Doescher and a group of 10 students to such a precise reading.
A fiery oil on canvas, White House at Night is dominated by a jauntily perched white house beneath an azure sky dominated by a celestial blob the scientists say is Venus.
Given Venus' sheer brilliance as well as the placement of the planets, the Southwest Texas State team could tell it was around sunset.
A Sleuth For Art
Getting to this point though involved some serious sleuthing on the scientists' parts.
The team started by making a trip last May to the French town of Auvers-sur-Oise to find the white house in the painting.
They already knew the painting was completed a few days before June 18, 1890, when the artist mentioned the painting in a letter to his brother.
Olson and his team then pored through meteorological reports and discovered June 16 was the only clear day during that period.
But what truly surprised Doescher, was Van Gogh's uncanny accuracy. "I'm not an artist," he said, "but I do know that Van Gogh was an impressionist and infused his spirit into what he saw. What surprised me was the accuracy with which he recorded what he saw."
A Work Lost And Now Found
For almost 50 years, art historians feared White House At Night was lost to world.
At the end of World War II Russian solders seized it from Germany and it was housed in the basement of a Moscow museum for half a century without a single public display.
White House at Night returned to public display in 1995 and is currently housed in a Moscow museum.
Van Gogh committed suicide on July 29, 1890, in Auvers-sur-Oise. He spent the last year of his life in an asylum suffering from a mental illness that has never been identified.