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Find out what researchers have discovered about Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers. Watch the video.
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Just like other painters working at the time, Vincent made flower still lifes. But he did things a little differently. After practising with different flowers, he chose a specific variety: the sunflower. His fellow painters thought that sunflowers were perhaps somewhat coarse and unrefined. But this is exactly what Vincent liked, and he also enjoyed painting flowers that had gone to seed. He gave sunflowers the lead role in several paintings.
Vincent knew that his sunflower paintings were special. As did other people. After he died, friends brought sunflowers with them to his funeral. Sunflowers became synonymous with Vincent, just as he had hoped.
Vincent is famous in all corners of the globe for his painting of sunflowers in a vase. But many people do not realise that he made multiple versions of this painting. These five artworks are now found at museums all around the world, from Tokyo to Amsterdam.
In addition to these five famous versions of Sunflowers, he painted another two versions. One is in private hands, and the other painting was unfortunately lost during World War II.
Vincent started painting flower still lifes to experiment with colour. Flower still lifes also sold well, which was another reason to paint them. Once Vincent had seen the fresh, colourful paintings of the Impressionists in Paris, he also wanted to introduce more colour into his work.
His initial flower still lifes still had traditional colours, but Vincent tried out increasingly more extreme colour contrasts.
Vincent made his first still lifes of sunflowers in Paris. The painter Paul Gauguin was impressed by them. Vincent was very honoured to hear this. He had recently got to know Gauguin and looked up to him. For precisely this painter to appreciate his work confirmed his feeling that he was on the right track.
Not long after, Vincent moved to the South of France. He wanted to establish an artists’ community there: a place where artists could live and work, and inspire each other. When he heard that Gauguin would actually be coming, he painted several still lifes of sunflowers with which he decorated the guest bedroom. Gauguin called the paintings ‘completely Vincent’.
Vincent wanted to combine two versions of the Sunflowers with Woman Rocking the Cradle, the portrait that he made as an homage to the comforting mother figure. Together, the paintings were to form a triptych. The two Sunflowers were the ‘yellow panels’ that would intensify the colours of the portrait. Vincent thought that the triptych as a whole symbolised gratitude.