LEGO Ideas 21333: The Starry Night – You’ll Gogh nuts for this one. [Review]

Back in February of 2021, LEGO announced that a brilliant adaptation of Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night by fan creator  Truman Cheng (legotruman) would be one of the next LEGO Ideas sets. Now, just over a year later, that set is about to leap into our greedy little hands. LEGO Ideas 21333 The Starry Night will be available May 25th for VIP members (and June 1st for everyone) from the LEGO Shop Online for US $159.99 | CAN $219.99 | UK £149.99. This 2316-piece set features not only a very interesting sculptural approach to the impressionistic masterpiece, but a minifigure of Vincent van Gogh himself. Come along as we stroll this fantastic landscape, and set our sights for the stars.

The LEGO Group provided The Brothers Brick with an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.

Unboxing the parts, instructions

This set comes packaged in a large tab sealed box. As is common for the Ideas theme, the styling is very minimalist, with a couple of prominent logos, a colorful strip along the bottom edge, and a mandated age range of 18+.  As usual, there’s nothing super complex about the build that a younger person couldn’t manage. Of note is the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art in New York City) logo in the lower right – that’s where The Starry Night currently hangs.

The back of the box shows the completed model in situ, at a slightly raked angle that give you a hint of the physical depth of the build. Along the right edge is the standard “this is how the Ideas process works” block, and the bottom edge has some inset shots. The first shows the actual painting, followed by a head-on comparison shot of the LEGO version. Next, we get an edge view, again calling out that this isn’t a flat mosaic-like you’d traditionally find in a LEGO Art set. Those last two shots also call out the set’s dimensions – 11″/28 cm high, 14.5″/38cm wide, and 4.5″/12cm deep. The final inset on the lower right shows the “play feature” of a movable minifigure stand that can be attached to the bottom edge.

Inside the box are 21 numbered bags spanning nine building stages, an unnumbered bag with the instruction manual, a small flier, and two loose 6×16 plates in black.  This set doesn’t have any new molds, but there are a significant number of parts appearing in new colors for the first time, as well as some new prints. We’ll be calling those out as we move through the review. Thankfully, there are no stickers in this set to deal with.

The instruction manual is 240 pages long and perfect bound. The front cover features the original artwork, while the back has a relevant quote from Vincent van Gogh: “It’s clear that to paint a starry sky it’s not nearly enough to put white spots on blue-black.”

As is standard for these adult-collector style instructions, the first few pages are taken up with an overview of the subject matter. After a brief bio of Vincent, and a review of the painting in question, we get to meet the fan designer, Truman Cheng. He talks a little about his design process and the impressive rush of early votes – 10,000 supporters in just three weeks – that lead to his Ideas submission getting a close look from LEGO.

Next we meet the LEGO designers who turned Truman’s idea into an Idea. Soren Dyrhoj, LEGO design master, and Niken Hartomo, LEGO senior graphics designer, each share a paragraph about what they enjoyed most about this effort.

Although our review set had the standard clear plastic bags, the included flier suggests that later copies of this set will start to see the more eco-friendly packaging LEGO has been promising to roll out. I scanned the page in so you can read up for yourself.

Vincent Van Gogh in the house

Now that we have the packaging out of the way, let’s take a moment to learn a bit about The Starry Night itself. My minor in Art History was a long time ago, and since this set is MoMA branded, MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York feels like an apt place to pull a quote from.

In creating this image of the night sky—dominated by the bright moon at right and Venus at center left—van Gogh heralded modern painting’s new embrace of mood, expression, symbol, and sentiment. Inspired by the view from his window at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy, in southern France, where the artist spent twelve months in 1889–90 seeking reprieve from his mental illnesses, The Starry Night (made in mid-June) is both an exercise in observation and a clear departure from it. The vision took place at night, yet the painting, among hundreds of artworks van Gogh, made that year, was created in several sessions during the day, under entirely different atmospheric conditions. The picturesque village nestled below the hills was based on other views—it could not be seen from his window—and the cypress at left appears much closer than it was. And although certain features of the sky have been reconstructed as observed, the artist altered celestial shapes and added a sense of glow.

Van Gogh assigned an emotional language to night and nature that took them far from their actual appearances. Dominated by vivid blues and yellows applied with gestural verve and immediacy, The Starry Night also demonstrates how inseparable van Gogh’s vision was from the new procedures of painting he had devised, in which color and paint describe a world outside the artwork even as they telegraph their own status as, merely, color and paint.

But before we get to the larger painting, we get to build a minifigure scale version complete with the artist. The tiny Starry Night arrives on a printed 4×4 tile, with a brick-built easel to prop it up. Both the accessories have new and exclusive colorations. The colors on the palette are all taken from the painting, with the blue-tipped brush tying things together.

Vincent’s figure is also interesting in that it takes stylistic cues from his self-portraits. Note the brushwork texture on his dual-sided torso, arms and printed legs. Even his beard has a touch of the same graphical style. It’s an interesting choice that distances this figure from the rest of the “real world” LEGO characters. Considering Van Gogh’s fraught relationship with society, this seems doubly apt.

Compared with The Artist from the fourth Collectible Minifigures series, you can see just how far LEGO Art has come in the past decade.  Nothing wrong with promoting different impressionistic styles, though.


The build

Construction starts out in the lower left corner of the work, with a sturdy base that will hold the cypress tree. The backplane of the painting extends off to the right, with a plethora of front-facing studs ready to provide a strong connection point for the rest of the foreground build.

A yellow 1×2 brick with Technic connection sits behind a group of 1×8 tiles, with large walls of SNOT connections on either side creating a socket of sorts. The stair-step ledges of plate and brick are integrated into the back, making for a very sturdy base.

Once the base structure is in place, the part selection becomes a lot more colorful. Several shades of blue, yellow, brown, and green combine to create foreground plants and the first hints of the horizon.  The sky is built with a simple “studs up” stacking of plates and bricks, but don’t get too comfortable with the ease of construction. Things are going to get a lot more complex.  

The left corner has studs-out trees in dark and olive green, and more distant upright trees made of stacks of dark brown and olive green 1×1 round plate. Small building are represented by 1×1 plate with roof tiles; a bright yellow layer replicating the warm glow of the windows see in the painting. A larger building uses a notched 1×2 brick in white to suggest architectural details. Meanwhile, the rolling hills are made from blue curved bricks in various shades of blue.  The orientation of the build shifts at the far tree line, with wedge and curved plates facing forward.

From the back, modified 2×2 plates are staggered along the edges, with a couple of additional bracing points six studs up from the bottom.

The lower right section starts out with a studs-out grouping of stacked plates and tiles. There’s a lot of interlocking happening, so things are very sturdy.

There are a lot of repeated “brick-strokes” in the 2×2 round tiles with quarter-circle tiles attached. This, combined with the repeating patterns of curved plate and tile, helps keep this section feeling unified.

Seen from what will eventually be a “top down” angle, you can appreciate the layers of brick and plate that are used to suggest layers of paint, as well as add geographic depth to the scene.

This section also gives you a feel for just how “3d” this set is. All of this height will be transformed into depth when it is connected.

The Technic connections along the front edge are used to build up a hill where the church stands. Light blue roof tiles and a spear tip (a new color for that part.) The rear side of a headlight brick creates the window in the church’s spire. There are additional clip and bar attachment points along the base that will be used much later to add more houses.

The underside of this section has two exposed Technic connection points. They’ll remain a mystery for now, but I wanted to you know where they are. Because of reasons.

Joining the left and right halves together, the extreme foreground is mostly complete.

The next stage of building is the rear “wall” – the sky. While most LEGO sets have 1-3 bags of parts for building stage, this one has five. And there’re pretty massive bags, too.

I put Lil’ Vincent in among the unbagged parts for a sense of scale. The majority of elements are plates in various lengths and shades of blue.

Assembly here is trickier than you might first think. Making sure you’ve got the right color part, and the right length of plate, can lead to a certain amount of rebuilding when things stop lining up as expected. Luckily there are a series of modified 2×2 plates incorporated into the wall that help you know where you’re at.

Still, at the end, LEGO has provided a small pile of “overfill” plates – a sure sign that test builders had a real problem making sure they ended up with exact color matches the full way through. It’s pretty unusual to see anything larger than a 1×1 plate in the “bonus” pile.

On the back, there’s a single LEGO Art-style Technic bracket, which can be used as an anchor point when hanging. It is firmly embedded into the wall with a lot of surrounding build to brace it. This is necessary due to the hefty weight of the completed model.

Once past stage 5, you move on to building the frame. This also involved a huge pile of pieces, this time all in black.

Interesting pieces here include the rounded “loaf” framing pieces in black, using molds first seen in the 41951 and 41942  DOTS message boards.

The completed frame is beefy, and very sturdy. If the pictures I found online are still accurate, The Starry Night’s current frame at MoMA has that rounded edge accent in gold, but I can understand why the Ideas version chose a monochromatic take to keep the focus on the painting.

The next step is to put the frame around our brick-built painting. Remember those Technic holes under the foreground? At this point, we find out that one of them is used as an attachment point for a small brace.

That brace is a necessary addition if you’re not wall-mounting the set. The frame has a wide base, but the weight of the foreground is enough to unbalance it. Better safe than sorry.

Next up, we get to use some great new printed parts. In Truman’s initial submission, these details were all brick-built, but I think the transition to printed dishes works as well. (And, in a sly move by LEGO, these unique prints make sure you can’t just build this version of The Starry Night out of pieces you might already own.)

After the black of the frame, we also return to a world of color, with a wealth of parts in a variety of bright shades. Once again these parts are used to create shapes from stacked plates. A small modified 1×2 plate with bar on the bottom edge does take things to a more creative level.

That bar attached to the clip behind the hills that we saw much earlier in the build. Thanks to that singular connection, the stack of plates sits at an unusual angle, creating a sense of motion as we move up into the night sky.,

The printed plates get some 1×1 round plate and tile centerpieces, and are then attached to the 2×2 connection points in the sky.

The moon gets a lot of love, with a SNOT-based core with layers of curved tile creating a deep brick-built dome. It’s capped with the largest of the printed dishes.

While it would have been nice if the designers had found a way to capture the original tightly swirled brushstrokes entirely in brick, I think the combination of plate and print does a good job of bridging the gap.

We continue our “stacks of plates but not quite” adventure with the energetic shapes that fill the center of the image. More colorful parts are mixed with bar and clip connection points to create the swirling patterns.

The changing orientation of the stacks of plates gives the eye a clear path to follow, just like the painted version.

The use of layers also creates a depth that brings the sky out over the hilltops. It’s an illusion that works really well.

Finally, it’s time to tackle the cypress tree that goes in the lower-left corner. Assembly starts with an interestingly braced central trunk that uses SNOT connections to create a strong mirrored build. The staked plate technique returns for the branches, this time in dark greens and browns.

The completed cypress has a great visual texture, and the vertical reach feels very fluid. An impressive feat for plastic bricks.

Slotting it into place, the tree provides an interesting expansion to van Gogh’s work. Obviously, in the painting, we can’t see what’s going on behind it, but in our 3D LEGO world, hidden details are visible.

The last parts of the painting are the houses that sit in the extreme foreground. Stacks of 2×2 corner plates hide a clip-and-bar attachment that slots them into the house’s walls. A small stand-alone house uses the same blues and yellows as the distant homesteads seen up in the hills.

This section contains the only part of this build that I really dislike. The exposed front edge of the house looks unfinished and breaks the illusion for me. Luckily it’s only visible from certain angles, and doesn’t go out of its way to draw the eye.

There’s also an odd “is this meant to be a play feature?” moment at the end. A small stand is designed to hold the Vincent minifigure and mini-Night. This can be attached to the support peg, letting Vincent look out over the landscape he’s painting. As we learned earlier,  he didn’t actually paint this while looking at the landscape, so…eh. It’s a thing.


The finished model

And there we have it. The Starry Night.  We took a pretty close look at things while the build was happening, so take a moment to just sit back and enjoy the amazing talents that went into both the original creation, and the LEGO tribute.

Putting the minifigure display stand on does at least hide the front of that building, I guess.

Here’s a GIF that compares the original painting to the finished LEGO version. What do you think? It feels pretty accurate to me.

The depth of the LEGO model continues to catch me by surprise. It’s a very unique method to recreate the brushwork and sense of motion that van Gogh brough to his image.

For those of you considering hanging this – please do! The mounting assembly is very strong, and with only a single nail needed, easy to level. Just put it in a place where people are unlikely to brush against it – you don’t want to have to rebuild this every time someone turns the corner too suddenly.

Conclusion and recommendation

This is my favorite Ideas set to date. I spent a lot of time in college immersed in art history, and having one of the world’s most recognized works in LEGO form is a real treat for me. The build was a little intense at times; keeping track of all the different colors was a challenge. But the techniques were interesting, and the overall experience was very satisfying. The exclusive Vincent van Gogh minifigure and tiny The Starry Night are adorable, and make for a good stand-alone micro display if you don’t have the room or wall space to hang the main model. At $160 US for 2316 pieces, the price is part is a mere 7 cents per, which means you could even opt to use this as a parts pack. There are tons of useful pieces in great colors, and in pretty high quantities. The exclusive prints on the dishes are also a plus, and I can see them being used in many fan creations in the years to come.  So it feels like there’s something for just about everyone here.

LEGO Ideas 21333 The Starry Night will be available May 25th for VIP members (June 1st for everyone) from the LEGO Shop Online for US $159.99 | CAN $219.99 | UK £149.99. It may also be available via third-party sellers on Amazon and eBay.

The LEGO Group sent The Brothers Brick an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.

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