Yes, trying to pin an actual date and time of the day to van Gogh’s painting is an intellectual exercise, but no one should believe this is possible. An artist plays with what’s seen. One only need look at van Gogh’s painting. Does the sky really have white streaks in it? No. So what makes the group who relied on this picture so positive that the moon is in exactly the right position? More likely than not, van Gogh painted something that gave the scene feeling and depth, but it’s hardly scientifically accurate.

Kirk Ryan
East Windsor, N.J.

Van Gogh’s own letters say that he painted what he saw around him .–R. Cowen