The cultural significance of Sunflowers (1889), one of Vincent van Gogh’s best-known paintings, can’t really be understated. If you’re not beguiled by the picture itself, then the phenomenon that surrounds it will certainly have your head spinning. The painting will be the centrepiece of the Van Gogh Museum’s summer exhibition Van Gogh and the Sunflowers.
The presentation will highlight the flower’s significance to the painter and what he hoped to achieve with his Sunflowers. Van Gogh himself thought that this work was among the best things he had done.
A great deal of study has been devoted to the masterpiece from the Van Gogh Museum’s collection in recent years.
Not only that, you’ll get to see behind the painting – we mean literally ‘behind’ – the public will have a first opportunity to see the back of the masterpiece, including the wooden strip that Van Gogh himself added to create more space for the sunflowers.
The exhibition will show what the latest technical research has contributed to our knowledge of Van Gogh’s working methods, the discolouration of certain pigments and the painting’s conservation history and current condition.
There’s a fascinating history to the creation of the painting and Van Gogh and the Sunflowers presents the fascinating genesis of the painting and the sunflower’s significance to Van Gogh.
The flower still lifes he painted during his time in Paris reflected the French floral still life tradition. It was in that city that he first chose the sunflower as a subject, in both landscapes and still lifes.
Having moved to the southern French town of Arles, he then painted his celebrated large vases with sunflowers, which came to be associated with his friendship with Paul Gauguin.
The painting, now in the Van Gogh Museum’s collection, was originally intended for Gauguin, who lived with Van Gogh in the Yellow House in Arles for two months and made a portrait of him as a painter of sunflowers.
Van Gogh considered the Sunflowers paintings to be among his best works. He realized that he had achieved something extraordinary: ‘to be sufficiently heated up to melt those golds and those flower tones, not just anybody can do that, it takes an individual’s whole and entire energy and attention.’
It was not only Gauguin who was impressed by the works, Vincent’s brother Theo and other artists and critics also found the Sunflowers series magnificent. It did not take long after Van Gogh’s early death for them to assume the status of masterpieces.
There’s also a whole host of technical revlations, and why the museum has recently decided not to allow Sunflowers to travel in future.
Van Gogh and the Sunflowers will be open daily between 21 June and 1 September, from 9 am to 6 pm. To book visit the Van Gogh Museum site
top image: Vincent van Gogh, Sunflowers (detail), 1889, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation).