Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

“I’m going to cover the white walls of the room that you will sleep in, or Gauguin when he comes, with nothing but paintings of large yellow sunflowers,” Van Gogh promised his brother Theo in a letter (534). “And then you will see these large pictures of bunches of twelve or fourteen sunflowers, filling the tiny room along with a pretty bed, everything else all very elegant….I want to make it into a real artist’s house…everything—from the chairs to the pictures—should have character.”

Vase with twelve sunflowers (public domain photo)

Later he wrote (letter 573) “… Gauguin was especially taken with [the sunflowers]… As you know, peonies are Jeannin’s, hollyhocks are Quost’s, and sunflowers, well, sunflowers are mine.”

Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers (public domain photo)

His friend the painter Bernard describes Vincent’s funeral. All around his coffin were…sunflowers!

“On Wednesday, 30 July, I arrived in Auvers around ten o’clock…The coffin had already been closed. I was too late to set eyes once more on the man who took his leave of me so full of hope three years ago. All of his last paintings had been hung on the walls of the room where the coffin lay; they formed a kind of halo about him, and by virtue of the radiant genius they emanated, they made his death even more unbearable for us artists. A plain white cloth was draped on the coffin and there were a great many flowers—sunflowers, which he was so fond of.”

Vase with Three Sunflowers (public domain photo)

..Vase with Three Sunflowers

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13 Responses to Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

  1. ivdanu – Quebec – Canadian visual artist of Romanian origin.
    ivdanu says:

    Yes, nowdays you can google “sunflowers” and you’ll get a lot of “Van Gogh”s answers! It’s not a rare – but typical – case of association, you say coco chanel and you think chanel no 5, etc.

    Bernard did a lot for Vincent’s postomous glory even if they had a “cold” between them (Vincent criticized Bernard for some of his tendencies in painting… he was a very very (too…) sincere, sometimes…) He did it less selfish as Dr. Gachet and Dr. Gachet son, Paul jr., whom build a whole edifice to themselves BECAUSE they have known (slightly, in fact) Vincent…

  2. 100swallows says:

    Thanks, Danu. I don’t know enough about Bernard’s relationship with Vincent to comment. Van Gogh’s sunflowers have become so familiar to everyone that few even really look at them anymore. They just identify them. They are so good and so present in everyone’s mind that a modern artist almost has to stay away from the subject.

  3. iondanu – I am a visual artist of Romanian origin (a draughtsman, painter, photographer and digital artist) living now in Canada.
    iondanu says:

    Yes, it makes them quite q tempting challenge, isn’t it? I would love to paint some… Maybe I will. Anyhow, “the models” aren’t so easy to come by… you have to locate a field, to steal them and to be at the right time of the year – not too mature, not too young… worth trying…

  4. erikatakacs – Canada – I am a figurative sculptor working in paper pulp.
    erikatakacs says:

    Very touching description of the funeral by Bernard.

  5. Chris – I am a artist who has recently graduated with B.A(Hons)Fine Art at Porstmouth University U.k (as Mature Student)
    Chris says:

    Have just come accross your interesting blog,I have posted a couple of Van Gough’s paintings and quotes recently on my blog, so found your viewpoint interesting. shall be returning frequently to your blog.

  6. rich says:

    I was wondering how much time it took for Vincent to paint those flowers:
    The flower arrangement on the first and third picture is identical, but the vase and some colors aren’t.
    Did he paint two times the motive on the spot, or did he just copy his original painting , slightly alterated ?

    As far as I remember, Cezanne used to be upset painting flowers. They withered away too soon!
    Perhaps Vincent was faster…

  7. wrjones
    wrjones says:

    That would have been a very sad funeral. He was 100% a painter artist.

  8. 100swallows says:

    Rich: Van Gogh wrote: “I start working every day at dawn because the flowers wilt very quickly; and it has to be painted in one go.”
    The author of my Complete Paintings (Taschen), either Metzger or Walther, has this to say: “This passage in Letter 526 highlights his intentions. Van Gogh set himself a target and hoped to achieve it at the greatest possible speed. The sunflowers he positioned in a vase early in the morning naturally called for urgency since they would wilt within hours. This provided Van Gogh with the justification (as it were) for a procedure which in fact he was only too glad to consider an end in itself; he was now being rewarded for his long-standing devotion to speed. A painter unaccustomed to rapid work would never manage to seize the beauty that was wasting away minute by minute.” (p. 413)
    Maybe once he had the flowers arranged he tried two different versions at the same time. Or then he painted the same arrangement in different colors later.

  9. 100swallows says:

    Bill and Erika:
    “As he lay dead in the hall where he had been working they placed at his head the picture of the Transfiguration which he had done for Cardinal d’ Medici; and the sight of this living work of art along with his dead body made the hearts of everyone who saw it burst with sorrow.”
    This is from Vasari’s account of the death of Raffaello Sanzio. It was his birthday. He was 37. (Van Gogh died at 37 too.)

    “Bury the rag deep in your face: now is the time for your tears.” (Of course Bob Dylan, the Ballad of Hattie Carroll)

  10. 100swallows says:

    Chris: Thanks for your visit. There’ll be more posts on Van Gogh.

  11. rich says:

    Quite enlightening.
    Thanks, Swallows, for the quotations.

  12. Pingback: The Other Chair « The Best Artists

  13. thejohnhunter
    john hunter says:

    I Love it

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