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Van Gogh’s Sunflowers: History and Analysis of the First Sunflower Series (August, 1888)
Painted in almost a week in late August 1888, Van Gogh’s original series of Sunflowers were intended as inspirational and decorative pieces for his “yellow house” in Arles, France. In preparation for the arrival of the painter Paul Gauguin at the end of the year, Van Gogh wanted his house and his paintings to reflect the very bright, mysterious colors he saw around Arles and the Mediterranean:
“The Mediterranean has colors, changing. I mean, you don’t always know if it’s green or purple, you can’t even tell if it’s blue, because the next moment the light changes pink or gray… Now there’s old gold everywhere. , there is bronze, copper, one might say, and it is with the green passion of the sky, covered with heat: a beautiful color, perfectly harmonious, with the mixed tones of Delacroix.” [Excerpt from letters to Theo]
Upon his arrival in Arles in February 1888, Van Gogh was immediately inspired and amazed by the intensity of color found in the south of France. In contrast to the cloudy and foggy skies and landscapes of northern Europe, the bright sun and southern skies seem to have removed all doubt from Van Gogh’s paintings. Bold color contrasts and spiral rhythms, all inspired by the surroundings of Arles, began to flow endlessly, as if in a constant state of ecstasy. In 1888, filling almost a word with a pencil and writing hundreds of letters, in 1888 Van Gogh painted at a rapid pace, achieving a speed and quality of production that is practically unprecedented in the history of art. is unique.
Sunflowers as a thank you gift
Since most of Van Gogh’s paintings were executed without anyone in particular in mind, his planned rose series was a slight departure as it was intended as a gift and expression of friendship. While many of his paintings seem to draw you in and away towards the horizon, it draws you in at the to his vision and world, Van Gogh’s roses arrive outside and contact you; like you can touch them. These paintings were clearly intended for pleasure and comfort, and they are perhaps all the more interesting because their intended audience was another artist whom Van Gogh greatly admired: he knew that nothing less than beauty affects Gauguin does not.
When Gauguin finally confirmed that he would go to Arles (after a long delay) Van Gogh’s sadness and fear completely disappeared. He threw himself into the rose project with an almost amused enthusiasm. He had in mind six to twelve paintings that would form a “symphony of blue and yellow” – impressive, like music, in color and “simple technique” to anyone with eyes in their head. is understood. Vincent worked feverishly from sunrise to sunset to complete his bouquets before the flowers withered, and accomplished four of the twelve dreams. He produced for the first time, in succession, two vases containing less than half a dozen roses, next to a composition of “twelve sunflowers and buds” (there are actually more), set in a yellow clay pot against a blue background. – lined up light green. . Having completed this exploration of light against light, he included a contrasting pendant of the same size and with the same yellow flower, but ‘all in yellow’ placing yellow sunflowers against a yellow background.
By ‘easy technique’ Vincent meant a style that was devoid of the smooth carpet of pointillism. And indeed the procedure in these paintings represents his ultimate rejection of Neo-Impressionism. He began in the usual manner, setting up the composition with a curved line, reinforcing it with painted lines, and blocking in the background and basic forms with thin layers of paint. Then he picked up the pace, loading the brush with color at times and using a little paint in other areas. He did not hesitate to use unmixed paint straight from the tube, and often mixed the pigments completely on his palette, so that veins of different color ran through the individual strokes.
Vincent created different brush systems for each element in the picture: the background is a basket pattern; tableau, a series of faint horizontal strokes; Leaves in single flowers and leaves are made of single or small, parallel markings; the centers of these flowers are decorated with circular strokes of pure red lake, with a false yellow ring; the petals of the full double flowers are short, thick spikes that arise from finely arranged centers. While putting the first layer on the back, he took the general shape of most of the flowers in the reservoir, he added the tips of the leaves on the back ground. With a controlled and confident touch, Vincent puts a new color on an underlying or still wet area, Vincent may have just devoted a single session to each canvas, then strengthened a few contours and added his signature.
Van Gogh’s sunflower series, first conceived in a spirit of solitude, now celebrated Vincent’s “hope to live with Gauguin in a studio of his own” and at the same time had a great sense of mission. Gauguin, for his part, showed his willingness to participate in his friend’s plan, but he by no means felt the same mixture of personal and ideological longing.
Using late 19th-century innovations in paint production, throughout 1888 Van Gogh used bold, unmixed colors against each other to stunning effect. Chrome yellow, citron yellow, zinc yellow, cadmium, paper yellow, cobalt blue, French ultamarine, viridean and emerald green all strongly in Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and his later works in general. Using strong literal, visual, and vibrational contrasts between colors, Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings fully exploit the potential of intense color associated with an irregular, spiraling rhythm.
An analysis of Van Gogh’s paintings reveals the convergence of many superficial and background themes in the artist’s life: his interest in the color yellow, his insistence on speed, his focused intensity when the subject was certain objects and people, and his apparent closeness to to the sunflower as his ‘powerful flower’, thus:
“As you know the peonies are Jeannin’s, the hollyhocks are Quost’s, and the sunflowers are, well, my sunflowers.”
Additionally, one of the paintings that Paul Gauguin completed during Van Gogh’s visit to Arles was his portrait Vincent Painting Sunflowers (see the Gauguin section below) which captures the intensity of Van Gogh’s calmness when painting his subjects and landscapes. .
In Love With Yellow
Regarding Vincent Van Gogh’s interest in the color yellow, it is difficult to draw this conclusion from a man who created perhaps the most ‘yellow’ image of roses in human history, when he rented a yellow house and painted hundreds of images of cornfields, wheat fields. does not get expelled. , and of course, a wild, biblical gem Sower from the beginning of the same year. In a letter to his sister Wilemina, Van Gogh describes the still life of roses as ‘pictures in yellow’. Perhaps anticipating Picasso’s Blue Period in which the artist dramatically reduced his color palette to stunning results, Van Gogh’s roses are truly a wild and vibrant “yellow symphony” that incorporates a dozen or more yellow hues and tones into a single combination. .
‘In the Moment’ Painting
When it came to speed, Van Gogh didn’t just paint at a furious pace, he actually needed to paint as fast as nature to capture the wind, the sun, the trees and of course, the sunflowers:
“I propose to paint a series of pictures for the studio in the hope that we will live there with Gauguin. Nothing but many large sunflowers… If I carry out my plan there will be dozens of pictures. Everything is a symphony. yes. in blue and yellow. I start work every day in the morning because the flowers fade quickly and it has to be painted in one go.”
This method of painting ‘in one step’ not only increased the production of his paintings in the last years of his life, but increased the focus, intensity and singular expression of many of his paintings. Waves, rivers, spirals and spirals of color seem to flow spontaneously and with the rhythms of a vast and vast universe that flows beneath the most ordinary of plants.
Gauguin ‘Sunflower Painting’
With a Painter of Sunflowers, Gauguin represented the arrangement of sunflowers that Vincent paints in the manner of Van Gogh’s August Sunflower series. The two full flower heads (called doubles) are placed in the same way as those of the yellow-on-yellow version, and the top flower in Gauguin’s canvas corresponds to the one in the vase on Vincent’s left. Gauguin followed Vincent by greatly intensifying the rays and also using dark red layers in the central discs. This method in Gauguin’s painting could refer to his criticism of Vincent for only painting Sunflowers, as well as painting on the roses themselves.
Painter of Sunflowers describes Gauguin’s criticism of Vincent’s work habits and their limitations, on the lines of a larger accusation that he would later add to one of his representations of his time with Vincent. In retrospect Gauguin would argue that while nineteenth-century artists had mastered drawing as a language of direct communication, no one—not even Delacroix—had truly understood the expressive potential of color.
Vincent’s overall depiction, however, is fictional: Van Gogh could not have painted real sunflowers in December, because they were not in season. Depicting the still life in a similar way to Vincent, Gauguin showed that neither he nor Vincent had directly observed the subject, but that he had already seen it transformed by the latter’s imagination. In other words, they worked with reference to earlier Sunflower paintings, not actual sunflowers.
Gauguin did something more complicated than caricature and mockery, and Vincent opened with a trancelike, saturated narrative. He and Vincent clearly thought about the creative potential of the state between waking and dreaming. Gauguin here blurs the line between Van Gogh ‘seeing God’ in this trance-like state, and being caught in a random, incipient stupor, although many would regard these as equivalent states. Vincent will later comment on the painting and he’s like “Of course I am, but I’m crazy.”
The Lost Sunflower Picture (Second Version)
Painted in the same frame as the other three sunflower paintings mentioned above, this Van Gogh painting was considered ‘Six Sunflowers’ and was intended to be placed inside an orange frame. Once owned by Koyata Yamamoto, a wealthy Japanese art collector, the painting was destroyed along with its owner’s house on August 6, 1945 – the same day the United States bombed Hiroshima.
Although the painting was not a victim of the nuclear bomb, it was hanging on a couch in the man’s home in Osaka when the village was destroyed in a US bombing the same day. Nearly seven decades later, in 2013 British art historian and curator Martin Bailey came across a color image of the painting hiding in a collection of Cezanne prints while researching a book on Van Gogh’s roses.
All in all, Van Gogh Sunflower paintings continues to fascinate connoisseurs and art historians alike. 125 years after the completion of these four paintings, they amaze and enchant us.
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