The painting depicts the view outside his sanitarium room window at night, although it was painted from memory during the day. The center part shows the village of Saint-Rémy under a swirling sky, in a view from the asylum towards north. The Alpilles far to the right fit to this view, but there is little rapport of the actual scene with the intermediary hills which seem to be derived from a different part of the surroundings, south of the asylum. The cypress tree to the left was added into the composition.
The work is an exemple of the artist's fascination with the nocturnal.
In September 1888, while van Gogh was staying in Arles, he started the painting commonly (known to him as Starry Night Over the Rhone). He later he incorporated a pen drawing in a set of a dozen based on recent paintings. Van Gogh claimed to have a "terrible need for religion" when he painted Starry Night Over the Rhone.
Since1941 it has been in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Reproduced often, the painting is widely hailed as his magnum opus.
The painting has been compared to an astronomical photograph of a star named V838 Monocerotis, taken by the Hubble in 2004. The clouds of gas surrounding the star resemble the swirling patterns van Gogh used in this painting.