Virtual Museum Visits, Day 2: Van Gogh and his Sunflowers

Continuing with our virtual museum visits, I’m taking you to two museums today to see Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.

What Mona Lisa is to Leonardo da Vinci, or The Night Watch to Rembrandt, well that the ‘Sunflowers’ are to Vincent van Gogh. It’s definitely a painting that comes to anyone’s mind when thinking about this fantastic Dutch painter.

Let me tell you more about that amazing piece of art on our day two of our virtual museum visits.

Vincent van Gogh and his Sunflowers

As you probably know Vincent van Gogh wasn’t particularly successful during his life. He sold only one painting during his ten years long career as a painter. However, some hundred years after they were painted, in 1989, one of his Sunflowers were sold for almost 40 million US dollars.

But, what’s so special in Van Gogh’s Sunflowers?

Take a look at our previous virtual museum visit to the Rijksmuseum and Vermeer’s paintings there.

Seven versions of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

When talking about the Sunflowers, I’m actually talking about seven different paintings. Vincent van Gogh painted four of them in the summer of 1888. And three at the very beginning of the following year.

He painted more versions of the same painting quite often. For example, we have three different versions of his famous Bedroom in Arles. He would do that some times to improve the first version, or to experiment a bit with its composition or the colours.

One of the Sunflowers was destroyed during the Second World War in Japan. Another one is in a private collection. And the rest could be seen in museums around the world, in the US, Japan, Germany, England and the Netherlands.

Well, in this virtual museum visit I’m going to show you two of them. The one from the National Gallery in London and the other one from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Sunflowers from the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam
Sunflowers from the National Gallery in London

Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

Vincent van Gogh painted his Sunflowers while he was living in Arles, France. It was the time when his art reached its peak, and he started to experiment with the truly original styles. His own styles.

And one of those paintings where you can see his own style shining through are the Sunflowers.

Van Gogh Sunflowers sketch

But what is so new about them?

Well, it’s definitely the fact he is using only one colour on them. Besides the green leafs and a touch of red and blue, everything is yellow on his paintings. Flowers are yellow, a vase and the background as well. However, he’s using so many different shades of yellow that you can clearly see a difference between the motives on a painting.

Following the footsteps of Van Gogh – read the whole series.

Influence of Rembrandt on the Sunflowers

Detail of flowers from van Gogh Sunflowers

He’s also doing that by showing the texture on his painting. Van Gogh is using a very thick layer of paint and is almost modelling some of the flowers on a painting. It’s interesting from where the influence for that is coming.

In 1885, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, filled with the masterpieces of Dutch Golden Age painters was opened. Vincent van Gogh who was still living in the Netherlands at that time visited it. He walked through the museum and was utterly amazed by all the fantastic paintings there.

Rembrandt The Jewish bride
Sleeve detail from Jewish Bride Rembrandt

He especially liked the work of Rembrandt van Rijn. And even mentioned one of his paintings, ‘The Jewish Bride’ in a letter to his brother Theo. He wrote to him how he could look at that painting for days. He especially admired the way Rembrandt showed the texture on a sleeve of a man on it. Rembrandt was using a palette knife to apply thicker paint on his paintings.

And Van Gogh is doing the same on his Sunflowers. I’m always surprised by this quite an unusual and rather traditional influence on one of the most famous modern paintings.

The symbolism behind the Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

Van Gogh Sunflowers the national gallery London

Vincent van Gogh loved painting nature. And we have quite many of his paintings with flowers on them.

Almost always when he’s painting flowers in a vase, he includes symbolism of life in them, too. You’ll always find some fresh younger flowers in a vase. But, there will often be some almost withered flowers there, also. He’s showing the circle of life that way – from younger to older, birth to death, you can find all those flowers together.

Van Gogh’s signature


Something which is appearing on his paintings from 1888 more and more, is his signature. And he’s always signing his paintings as, simply, Vincent. Although the Dutch and English version of the Sunflowers are quite similar, you can see a bit of a difference in a signature.

Did you have a chance to see any of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers? Do you have any questions about this painting? Feel free to ask them in comments, and I’ll answer them.

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