Sunflowers By van Gogh: His Dear Flowers & Their Portraiture
Updated: Feb 16
Looking at the old pictures from my high school, I recalled playing, rejoicing, and punishing my friends for our silly antics as younger people. Although we laughed at our teachers, gossiped about new students, and made rumoured girlfriends of dumb boys, we did something that inspired me from within and kept me alive throughout my life. Gardening, it is! Those were the beautiful days when we planted our favourite flower in the school garden and took care of it for the entire season. And as always, I used to choose sunflowers as their happy faces made everyone delightful. The last time I saw those flowers were on the finishing day of my school when they had almost grown larger than me, and I bid them goodbye with a small card made by me. Despite knowing the fact that it articulated the caring and responsible side in me, I still remember how much effort it needed for a single blossom. Amongst all these complimenting events, the best part was to see it bloom through the stage, wishing it never gets faded away. Instead of all my sincere wishes, they used to die in a few days. Today, when I look back on all those nostalgic memories through my powerful imagination, I visualize them more than the innocent sins I made during the period. If there is anything that can mirror my envision, it is the masterpiece Sunflowers by van Gogh. Perhaps this is why these oddly satisfying paintings are my favourites; a series of snapshots that exhibits the different stages of sunflower blooming. By now, you must have a solid idea of why we are here- to discuss the beautiful and symbolist depictions of Sunflowers made by our benevolent Vincent. Before we learn the complete analysis of the artwork, let me tell you one thing. The following section provides you with a rough idea of the artwork, and as you read the article, you will find out how it was analyzed in more detail. So bear with me till the last!
General Information About van Gogh Sunflowers.
1. Artist's Statement.
"The sunflower is mine, in a way."
Vincent used sunflowers as a form of gratitude and a perfect subject for displaying his artistry of faithful and dominant shades of yellow. He tried painting other flowers as well previously, but none of them showed the positivity and feelings he wanted to portray. Sunflowers, which he called happy faces, were inviting, and he found a deep love for them, so much that in one incident, it reveals that he would see the sunflowers and dream about the starry nights while sleeping. If Vincent had lived now, he might have changed the entire landscape of the places he went with sunflowers.
It would only make sense to forward our conversation to the analysis of Sunflowers painting, now that we know the sorbent love of the artist towards them. But before we step up for the later part, know that Sunflowers by van Gogh had five versions, now found at museums from Tokyo to Amsterdam.
Besides these five famous versions of Sunflowers, he painted two more. A private collection owns one of the paintings, and the other was lost in World War II. So let us start by learning about the famous van Gogh Sunflowers.
München Version, Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammlungen, Neue Pinakothek
London Version, London, National Gallery
Amsterdam Version, Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum
Tokyo Version, Tokyo, Sompo Japan Museum of Art
Philadelphia Version, Philadelphia Museum of Art
For now, I am just introducing them to you. We will eventually learn about each other in the later section.
2. Subject Matter.
The subject matter for all five paintings is sunflowers in a vase with a light yellow or blue background in vases.
Both the Munich and London versions of van Gogh Sunflowers were supposed to have been created by the artist in August 1888, but the Amsterdam Version was completed in 1889. The Tokyo and Philadelphia version supposed to date back to January 1889.
A little history about the paintings coincided with Vincent's most productive phase when he moved to Arles, a small town where he found that it resembled an old Japanese village. It was in May 1888 when he moved, and after a few months, he shifted to the Yellow House after getting in trouble with a landlord for a previous home. He desperately needed company as there was no one with whom he could discuss art. Hence, through letters, he called Paul Gaugin to join his studio as he wanted to set up a small artist club in the Arles. These paintings were made by Vincent when Gaugin accepted his invitation to move to Arles.
All five versions of the paintings rest in Neue Pinakothek, München, National Gallery, London, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Sompo Japan Museum of Art, Tokyo and Philadelphia Museum of Art, respectively.
6. Technique And Medium.
Sunflowers by van Gogh are oil on canvas medium with a post-impressionist style. From the research, it was studied that the Sunflowers were originally painted on a particular roll of linen with a blend of colours, mainly yellow. In addition, the colour changes in them are caused primarily by the fading of certain types of red paint (geranium lake) and the darkening of certain kinds of yellow (chrome yellow).
In-Depth Description And Analysis Of Sunflowers By Vincent Van Gogh.
About The Artist: Who Was Vincent van Gogh?
On a fine day on March 30th 1853, Anna van Gogh gave birth to Vincent in the Netherlands. There is little information about his early life, but a few of his neighbours told us about his warm and superficially kind behaviour towards everyone. His sister Elisabeth Huberta said about him,
"He knew the places where the rarest flowers bloom... as regards birds, he knew exactly where each nested or lived."
Vincents' early education included the boarding school in Zevenbergen, some thirty kilometres from Zundert and high school in Tilberg, where Constantijnc Huysmans taught him drawing. He worked for Goupil & Co as his first job in London and then Paris. In August of 1873, when the summers were wistful, Vincent enjoyed spending time with his brother Theo, and from that time till the end of his life; he became his best friend and closest to him, pushing him to write more than 700 letters to his brother in the time span of 18 years, giving us a snapshot of his love towards him. Vincent never graduated, but he was talented in his language speaking skills in French, English and even German. One must note that it was only in October 1880, that he finally decided to go as a painter in his career, and he was passionate about it so willingly. Even with no selling of his art, few bucks, which his brother used to send him monthly, he was deeply dedicated to creating epic artworks. There is so much to learn about Vincent, and I am sure you would like to time travel to meet him after, but since today we are specifically here to read about his artwork; let's start there.
History And Background Of The Artwork.
To understand the painting, we must know why does he create it. Now I have already told you briefly about it in the previous section, but there are still more facts to know about the Sunflowers by van Gogh.
On the 19th of February in 1888, Van Gogh left Paris for Arles. He wrote to Theo in his letter,
"It seems to me almost impossible to work in Paris unless one has some place of retreat where one can recuperate and get one tranquillity and poise back."
To him, Arles was like a small Japanese village whose landscapes were adoring and a matter of subject for many of his paintings. After moving there, he rented two rooms in an empty house on Place Lamartine, and since the rooms were unfurnished, he had the task of decorating this house which he called the Yellow House or Artist House. Here Vincent tried to persuade Paul Gaugin to join his studio, and for over half a year, he tried to convince him through letters. In the end, Paul finally accepted his invitation. Now, there were two things; he had to decorate the Yellow House, and he wanted to show his friend Paul his best artwork.
Following these, in the middle of August, he started decorating his guest room with various sunflower paintings as they indicated gratitude. He brought three canvases, where first, he decided to draw three huge flowers with a green vase and light background, second, he determined to paint three flowers one among them having a lost petal and the last one with twelve flowers and buds in a yellow vase.
Hence this was the way from where the sunflower painting series originated.
You must understand that unfortunately, these paintings were not famous when Vincent was alive. Six weeks after Vincent died, Theo arranged an exhibition for his display of artworks, but since his health was deteriorating, he was not able to do much. It was his widow Jo van Gogh-Bonger who decided to showcase Vincent's work to the world through exhibition loans to museums all over the world. And due to this, numerous buyers emerged for Van Gogh’s artworks. As a result, history has brought us a such beautiful and benevolent artist who painted his best despite all mental pain.
Meaning And Symbolism.
The sunflowers were favourite flowers of Vincent. Also, when he met with Paul Gaugin in Paris, he especially appreciated Vincent for his first sunflower painting version. And so this way, the artwork also represents a friendship mark and gratitude towards Gaugin. In addition, he used them through the stages of the life cycle, from the mature phase to the wilted decay.
Since all the artworks representing sunflowers have differences, we are all set to understand each separately.
The London Version Of Sunflowers By van Gogh.
This version of van Gogh sunflower painting consists of fifteen flowers in a vase with a light background. If you look closely, six among them are the centre of attention, consisting of the seeds with no petals, which means the artist symbolised the dried version of the sunflower. Further, you see several wilted flowers with a few petals holding the middle. The vase highly contrasts with two colours and a borderline of blue, which significantly distinguishes the two shades of colour. On the upper side, there is the signature of the artist in blue.
The brushstrokes in this composition are so excellent that you can even see the podding leaves of the sunflower. There is a noteworthy point that these flowers are arranged in such a carefree way that it impacts the realness of the flowers, depicting Van Gogh's artistic skills. Rather than artistically arrangement of these flowers, Vincent chose to show them through twists and curls of flowers and stems. The choice of emotional honesty and use of bold colours is the further extraordinary point of the artist in this composition. Let me explain this to you through the elements in the following paragraph.
There was a use of continuous lines before Vincent even filled the artwork. Further, he used contour lines to fill the sunflowers, giving them space and defining the area. One noteworthy point is that these lines make the sunflower painting more alive. However, one must note that the lines displayed here are through brush strokes. Further, there exists a blue line which highlights and separates the two colour shades of yellow in the background and vase.
Sunflowers by van Gogh (London version) consists of various shapes, but they are not in their perfect forms. Their imperfections are what makes them so beloved since Vincent displayed them. Sunflowers appear spirally, with imperfect circles and triangular petals on the stem. You see, there exists a cylindrical dome-like structure in the side profiles of the sunflowers to give them a sense of space and vision.
If you look at the painting at one glance, you will find that Vincent has not displayed much contrast in this painting, unlike his other artworks. Also, in the background, there is no such blend of colours to show lightness or darkness. Hence it reveals a composite composition with comparatively lighter contrast. Feel free to tell me if you see any shade throughout the painting. As far as I can tell, the only contradistinction in this composition of van Gogh sunflowers is the use of different grades of yellow for the distinct flowers. But that does not come under the lightness or darkness in any painting.
In general, if I ask you to tell the colours and shades of the composition, you will directly say yellows, oranges, greens, blues and blacks. Obviously, but don't you think we are missing something here?
The London version of Sunflowers by van Gogh has three primary colours: red, green, and yellow, but they are not as easy as they seem. Vincent used analogous colours here. Despite being the above primary colours, the colours he used are from the colour wheel that is adjacent to one another.
In addition, he used warm colours in the composition to provide a comforting energy among the viewers.
As we step into the next version of Vincent van Gogh Sunflowers, I wish to tell you something about it. It is the same artwork disrupted one fine day by few intrepid, ungrateful and ignoble-minded climate activists looking for fame. However, with the beautiful and talented restoration team, it tended to be in its original form, as the only thing affected was the frame. Now, my only motive to point out the unfortunate event was to keep you updated with even the last activity of the composition. Anyways, back to our next version!
The München Version Of Sunflowers By van Gogh.
The München version portrays twelve sunflowers in a vase. The background consists of a blend of blue and yellow shades. This time, Vincent used a continuous line textured pattern in the background to indicate space in the composition. Further, there is use of two different, contrasting or complementing colours, which reveals contradistinction in the artwork. On looking at these, it seems there is a complete change in the brushstrokes of the painting. We will talk about this in later parts of this section.
Vincent carefully arranged this pile of flowers in a casually beautiful way, with the addition of giving lightness through the use of white colours.
The München Sunflowers by van Gogh differs from the London version in many ways. For instance, there is the use of extraordinary brightness and contrast. Secondly, instead of all the sunflowers in the wilted phase, it includes some fresh sunflowers just taken out from the garden. Further, the use of texture in the composition also adds space, giving a fresh look to the flowers. There is no use of blue lines, unlike in the London version. Looking at the brushstrokes, there is a filling of contour lines to give them an extraordinary appearance of 3 dimensions.
The Amsterdam Version Of van Gogh's Sunflowers.
The painting portrays fifteen flowers in a vase in a more spacious way. These sunflowers indicate a withering phase with some having few petals and most having only the seedpod. Vincent chose to portray these secular flowers with a transfuse of yellow and blue colours, which displays his warm energy. One may look at how the emotional innovator van Gogh carefully used a few tints of colours to provide a subtle contrast of yellows.
You must note that the use of lines and values is almost similar to the London version. However, the vital difference lies in the choice of colours. Here, Vincent uses a variety of contrasts and shades of green, which immediately catches the viewer's attention. Further, the wilted sunflowers have a difference in their middle portion. Few among them include tonnes of maroon, blue, black and even yellow. We can sense some kind of emotional relaxation in our minds when we look at the left and rightmost sunflowers, which have a darker shade of green and blue.
The Tokyo Version Of Sunflowers By Vincent van Gogh.
Initially, sunflowers in the Tokyo version appear to have a sort of drifting kinetic energy. In this version, the colours have a sharper contrast, which gives it a more spellbinding appearance. There is occasional use of red colour through tints, which excites the momentum of the painting and increases the focus of the viewer. Unlike the previous versions of Sunflowers by van Gogh, there is no signature mark of Vincent on this series of sunflower painting. Also, there is one noteworthy point here, there might be a resemblance with the London version, but it somewhat holds a different energy in it, which further senses that Vincent doesn't want it to be a mere copy of the sunflowers.
Throughout this artwork, there is an approach to having a blast of colours with distinct brushstrokes.
Similar to these paintings, there is one of the versions in Philadelphia as well. And it does have a few similarities but a lot of differences. Tell me what differences you saw here in this artwork.
Coming to the next part, you see that the most crucial part of Vincent is his brushstroke. So let us talk about them.
Brushstrokes In Sunflower Painting Series.
According to a study by Stanford University, x-raying and different methods for detecting brushstrokes, we finally know how Vincent's artworks were different from other artists. On average, the brushstrokes in the Vincent paintings are in the neighbourhood, but their total number is not much more. It simply suggests that there is a tighter arrangement of the brushstrokes, which distinguishes the remarkability of the paintings in terms of geometric appearance. They are straighter, more elongated and homogeneous in broadness.
If you see more in Sunflowers by van Gogh, you will notice a certain kind of expressiveness of the artist's mind through the choice of colours merged with the brushstrokes. With subtle use of contrast, light and dominant colour, he successfully made a painting, which helps us to build a connection with the simplicity and soberness of the Vincent character.
Conservation Treatment Of The Artwork.
The Amsterdam Van Gogh museum gained a deeper appreciation for the distinct restorations carried out on the artwork and the consequences of these restorations. It seemed that there were multiple layers of varnishes on the painting. From the research, we know that van Gogh did not add any of them, which means they were later added. In some places, the layers of varnish and paint have mixed, making them dirty and yellowed. So in order to secure the paint and make the surface matt, a layer of wax was later applied to the varnish layer at some places.
Further, in the late 1990s, a layer of wax was added, due to which there is matt, whitish quality developed over van Gogh Sunflowers. In the last restoration, they tended to remove this wax. Furthermore, since the old retouches were underneath the varnish, they were not usable, so new ones were applied over them.
Additionally, Sunflowers by van Gogh, though stable, are fragile, which means they cannot be transported.
Opinions And Conclusions
Though Vincent worked for only ten years as a painter in his career, but he is one of the best artists today. Despite struggles with life, financial problems, and mental illness, he showed the world aspects of life that ordinary people would never see. He taught us that despite all the pains one suffers in his life, his passion and dedication towards his work are foremost. With his dominant bright colours, Vincent gave us the kind of artwork which no artist could ever copy. The fact that we could read about him and look at his paintings in a museum for hours could serve as a tribute to him and teach us about life. However, to Vincent museums were cemeteries where ongoing artists battled for the position of their predecessors. And somewhere, I feel that no amount of love and homage could reverse the past and allow him to see what he truly deserved. Sunflowers by van Gogh are the indication that even though it blooms, there will be sad days aside. But in all those despairing moments, we will hold our spirits and motivate ourselves with the story of our beloved, Vincent!
Frequently Asked Questions.
What did Sunflowers mean to van Gogh?
To Vincent van Gogh, Sunflowers indicated gratitude and were his favourite among all flowers.
Why did van Gogh paint Sunflowers?
Vincent painted the Sunflowers in August 1888 to decorate the walls of Yellow House and to welcome his friend and artist Paul Gauguin.
What type of art is van Gogh Sunflowers?
Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh is a still-life artwork that utilizes the post-impressionist style.
How much is van Gogh Sunflowers worth?
In 1987, Christie's auctioned van Gogh Sunflowers for $39.9 Million, making it one of the most expensive paintings by the artist. Taking inflation into the account, the artwork would have now been valued at $100 Million.
How many paintings of Sunflowers did van Gogh paint?
Vincent painted seven different depictions of Sunflowers. While five of them are available in public exhibitions, one is owned by a private gallery, and the last one was destroyed in World War II.
Is van Gogh Sunflowers ruined?
On October 14th 2022, a pair threw cans of tomato soup over the painting Sunflowers exhibited at The National Gallery, London. Though it ruined the frame inside which the artwork was kept, the painting remains unaffected.
Where are van Gogh's Sunflowers?
Van Gogh's Sunflowers is a series of seven still-life depictions of Sunflowers. Though one of them was destroyed in World War II and one is withheld by a private collection. The others are exhibited in Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammlungen, Neue Pinakothek, Munich; National Gallery, London; Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; Sompo Japan Museum of Art, Tokyo; and Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia.
What are the original colors of Van Gogh Sunflowers?
While there are a few differences in the colouration of the different versions of van Gogh Sunflowers, the primary colours of the London version are red, green, and yellow.
Conservation treatment 'Sunflowers', van Gogh Museum.
Rhythmic Brushstrokes Distinguish van Gogh from His Contemporaries: Findings via Automated Brushstroke Extraction, Stanford.
Vincent van Gogh by Victoria Charles.