Paintings You Should Know: Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ series (1887-89)

Sunflowers (fourth version in second series), Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

I’ve been watching a lot of Doctor Who lately, and when I saw the episode ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ (Series 5) I knew what my next painting post would be about.

In the three years prior to his death in July 1890, Vincent Van Gogh painted multiple studies of sunflowers.

Sunflowers, first version, 1888 (private collection)

It is the second series of these paintings, produced in 1888, featuring bouquets of sunflowers in a vase, which has become the most iconic (the first series, painted in Paris in 1887, featured sunflowers lying on the ground).

Sunflowers, second version, 1888 (destroyed in Japan in WWII)

This particular image is the fourth in the 1888 series, which measures 92.1cm by 73cm and hangs in the National Gallery in London. As with all the ‘Sunflowers’ it’s painted in oil on canvas using a variety of shades of yellow, many of which were newly developed at the time Van Gogh was painting.

Sunflowers, third version, 1888 (Munich, Germany)

Van Gogh produced several Sunflower paintings for Gaugain to decorate the studio they planned to share in Arles, along with other works on the same theme. Although they are loved for their colour and exuberance each vase also contains flowers which are past their peak and dying – an echo of the memento mori of earlier times and, perhaps, the precarious mental state of the artist, who was every inch the tormented genius.


Vincent and The Doctor

Due to other commitments and a certain lack of inspiration my posts may be less frequent for the next month or so. Bear with me: normal service should resume shortly.


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