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“Sunflowers” by Vincent van Gogh

"Sunflowers" by Vincent van Gogh

“Sunflowers” by Vincent van Gogh

“Sunflowers” by Vincent van Gogh, was painted in 1888 and is one of four sunflower paintings in his “Arles Sunflowers” series. Sunflowers were symbolic of happiness for Van Gogh. The “Arles Sunflowers” series was painted in Arles and was intended to decorate Gauguin’s room in the house that he had rented in the South of France. He and Gauguin worked there together for three months. “Sunflowers” was the painting that Van Gogh was most proud of and it is one of Van Gogh’s most famous works and one of the most reproduced.

In this painting, the flowers are built up with thick brushstrokes to evoke the texture of the seed-heads. Van Gogh wrote to his brother:

“I am working at it every morning from sunrise on,
for the flowers fade so quickly.
I am now in the fourth picture of sunflowers.
This fourth one is a bunch of 14 flowers … it gives a singular effect.”

This painting was created during a period of optimism when Van Gogh awaited the arrival of his hero, the avant-garde painter Paul Gauguin. The lonely painter dreamed of establishing an artist community with Gauguin as its mentor.

Sunflowers Series by Van Gogh

Sunflowers is the name of two distinct series of still life paintings by Vincent van Gogh. The first series was painted in Paris in 1887 and depicted the flowers lying on the ground. While the second set, created a year later in Arles, shows a bouquet of sunflowers in a vase. In 1889, Van Gogh created three additional repetitions of his Sunflowers. Two of which are replicas of this version of Sunflowers.

The “Arles Sunflowers” series includes the following four versions:

  1. “Three Sunflowers” – turquoise background – Private collection in NY
  2. “Six Sunflowers” – royal-blue background – destroyed by fire in World War II in Japan
  3. “Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers” – blue-green background- Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Germany
  4. “Sunflowers” – yellow background – National Gallery, London, England

The 1889 Repetitions include:

  • “Vase with twelve sunflowers” – repetition of the 3rd version – Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • “Sunflowers” – repetition of the 4th version (yellow background) – Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
  • “Sunflowers”  –  a replica of the 4th version (yellow-green background) – Sompo Japan Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan.

Vincent Van Gogh - Three Sunflowers

Three Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh, 1888 – Private Collection

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent Willem van Gogh is among the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art. Van Gogh was unsuccessful during his lifetime and was considered a madman and a failure. He created about 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most of them in the last two years of his life. They were characterised by bold colours and dramatic, impulsive and expressive brushwork that contributed to the foundations of modern art.

Facts about Vincent van Gogh

  • Van Gogh was born in the Netherlands
  • Initially, van Gogh planned to be a pastor and worked as a lay preacher in Belgium. It was only on being let go from this job that he decided that his future lay in painting.
  • Van Gogh didn’t start painting until he was 27 years old.
  • Van Gogh never received any formal art training.
  • Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, worked in an art gallery and introduced van Gogh to many artworks.
  • Van Gogh visited many parts of Europe including Netherlands, France, Belgium and England.
  • Japanese woodblock prints profoundly influenced Van Gogh. He collected pictures of Japanese woodblock prints, and he practised making copies.
  • Van Gogh had several close relationships with many fellow artists, including Paul Gaugin and Emile Bernard.
  • Van Gogh artistic career was only ten years.
  • Van Gogh was a prolific letter writer, especially to his brother.
  • He created over 900 paintings plus many more drawings and sketches.
  • He died at the age of 37
  • As a poor artist, van Gogh didn’t have money to pay for models, so he painted himself instead. He created hundreds of self-portraits.
  • Van Gogh considered himself and many of his paintings to be failures.
  • Van Gogh cut off his ear in 1888.
  • Experts believe that that Gaugin cut off Van Gogh’s ear, following a violent dispute and that they both conspired to blame it on van Gogh so that Gaugin would not be jailed.
  • Van Gogh wrapped up his removed ear and gave it to a prostitute in a nearby brothel.
  • Van Gogh suffered mental health challenges for many years, and in 1889 he voluntarily admitted himself to a psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy.
  • Van Gogh spent a year in the hospital, from which he created some of his most well-known paintings.
  • Van Gogh spent his adult life in poverty, surviving on cheap food. His diet consisted mainly of bread and coffee; he drank alcohol excessively and always had his pipe in hand.
  • After leaving the asylum, Van Gogh’s mental health continued to deteriorate, and in 1890, he shot himself in the chest. He died two days later.
  • There is speculation that Van Gogh did not shoot himself but that he was shot in a prank that went wrong. Van Gogh protected the identity of who shot him, by claiming that he shot himself.
  • Only 37 years old when he died, he had just sold one painting in his lifetime.
  • On his deathbed, van Gogh’s last words to his brother were “the sadness will last forever”.
  • Van Gogh’s brother died very soon after Van Gogh’s death.

Reflections

  • Can you see Van Gogh’s happiness in this sunflower painting?
  • Sunflowers made Van Gogh happy, what makes you happy?
  • Van Gogh dreamed of setting up a community of artists with Gauguin as its mentor. Was this realistic?
  • What makes you happy?
  • Was this Vincent van Gogh’s favourite?

Sunflowers

  • Title:             Still Life: Vase with Fourteen Sunflowers
  • Deutsch:       Stilleben mit Sonnenblumen
  • Français:       Nature morte: Vase avec quatorze tournesols
  • Artist:           Vincent van Gogh
  • Year:             1888
  • Medium:       Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions  92.1 cm × 73 cm (36.2 in × 28.7 in)
  • Museum:      The National Gallery, London

Vincent Willem van Gogh

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“The best way to know God is to love many things.” 
– Vincent van Gogh

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Photo Credit: 1) Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

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