The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in Art & History

Sunflowers

Vincent Willem van Gogh 127

This painting titled “Sunflowers” painted by Vincent van Gogh in 1888, is one of four paintings of sunflowers by Van Gogh dating from August and September 1888.

Sunflowers are the subject of two series of still life paintings by Van Gogh. The first series was painted in Paris in 1887 and depicted the flowers lying on the ground. The second set in the Sunflowers series was painted a year later in Arles, intended to decorate Gauguin’s room in the house that he rented in Arles in the South of France. He and Gauguin worked there together in the last 3 months of 1888.

In this painting the dying flowers are built up with thick brushstrokes called impasto. The impasto technique evokes 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 on the fourth picture of sunflowers. This fourth one is a bunch of 14 flowers … it gives a singular effect.”

Sunflowers were a symbols of happiness for Van Gogh, it was painted during a period of excited optimism when Van Gogh awaited the arrival of his hero, the avant-garde painter Paul Gauguin.  The lonely painter had moved to Arles, where he dreamed of setting up a community of artists with Gauguin as its mentor.

Paul Gauguin - Vincent van Gogh painting sunflowers - Google Art Project

Paul Gauguin portrait of Vincent van Gogh in 1888. Called “The Painter of Sunflowers” can be seen at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

“Sunflowers” was the painting that Van Gogh was most proud of and “Sunflowers” is one of Van Gogh’s most popular works and one of the most reproduced.

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                Sunflowers
  • 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

Artist Essential Facts:

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“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” William Shakespeare

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Photo Credit: 1) Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 2) Paul Gauguin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons