Published on Dec 24, 2019

Vincent van Gogh Background Images

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Painted in roughly one week at the end of August 1888, the original series of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers were intended as inspirational and decorative pieces for his “yellow house” in Arles, France. In preparation for painter Paul Gauguin’s arrival later in the year, Van Gogh wanted his house and his paintings to reflect the extra-luminous, mysterious color palette he found in the surrounding countryside of Arles and the Mediterranean Sea.

  • Born: 30 March 1853, Zundert, Netherlands
  • Died: 29 July 1890, Auvers-sur-Oise, France
  • On view: Van Gogh Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Periods: Realism, Post-Impressionism, Modern art, Impressionism, Japonism, Cloisonnism, Pointillism, Neo-Impressionism
  • Nationality: Dutch
  • Movies: Lust for Life

“The Mediterranean has the colors of mackerel, changeable I mean. You don’t always know if it is green or violet, you can’t even say it’s blue, because the next moment the changing light has taken on a tinge of pink or gray… Everywhere now there is old gold, bronze, copper, one might say, and that with the green azure of the sky, blanched with heat: a delicious colour, extraordinarily harmonious, with the blended tones of Delacroix.” [Excerpt from letters to Theo]

Upon his arrival in Arles in February of 1888, Van Gogh was immediately inspired and surprised by the intensity of color to be found in the south of France. As opposed to the northern European sky and landscape with its clouds and mist, the blazing sun and luminous sky of the south seem to have banished all hesitation from Van Gogh’s paintings. Daring color contrasts and spiraling rhythms all inspired by the environs of Arles began to flow endlessly, as if in a state of sustained ecstasy. Completing nearly a canvas a day and writing hundreds of letters, 1888 saw Van Gogh paint at a furious pace, achieving an unhinged speed and quality of output practically unmatched in the history of art.

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Sunflowers as a Gift of Gratitude

As most of Van Gogh paintings had been executed with no one in particular in mind, his planned sunflower series was a slight departure in that it was intended as a gift and expression of friendship. Whereas many of his paintings seem to draw you in and away toward the horizon, pulling you in to his vision and world, the Van Gogh sunflowers seem to reach out and communicate with you; it’s as if you can touch them. These are paintings that were clearly intended to charm and comfort, and they are possibly all the more stunning because the intended viewer of these paintings was another artist Van Gogh admired so much: he knew that anything less than magnificence would not impress Gauguin.

Painting the Sunflowers

When Gauguin finally confirmed he would be heading to Arles (after delaying for quite some time) Van Gogh’s gloom and apprehension was completely dispelled. With an almost gustatory enthusiasm, he threw himself into the sunflower project. It had expanded in his mind from six to twelve canvases that would constitute a ‘symphony in blue and yellow’ – affective, like music, by virtue of their color and “simple technique,” comprehensible to anyone with eyes in their head. Racing to complete his canvases before the flowers wilted, Vincent worked feverishly from sunrise to sunset, realizing four of the envisioned twelve. He first produced, in quick succession, two canvases featuring less than a half dozen flowers, moving next to a composition of “twelve sunflowers and buds” (there are in fact more) arranged in a yellow earthenware case against a light blue-green background. Having completed this exploration of light against light, he painted a contrasting pendant of the same size and featuring the same yellow vase, but ‘all in yellow’ the yellow sunflowers set before a yellow background.

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