Sunflowers
Vincent Van Gogh
1888

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Looking at this painting, you would be forgiven for looking at it in terms of artistry skill and comparing it to other more detailed and finished works found in the gallery. What we see here by the famous dutch artist is essentially a yellow vase filled with yellow sunflowers against a yellow background. However there is more to this painting than first meets the eye. 

 

Staying true to the dutch tradition of symbolism. This painting is full of it. The predominant colour, as already mentioned, is yellow which is known for meaning hope, optimism, confidence and positivity. If you know only one thing about Van Gogh, it is that non of these descriptive words apply to him. Instead he is mostly remembered for being a broken soul who in a bout of anger and depression cut off his own ear before later killing himself in 1890.

 

This painting was created in one of the happiest times of his life. Before moving to Arles in the South of France, he had lived in Paris where he met  fellow artists including Paul Gaugin. He admired these artists so much that he wrote to them asking them to come down to Arles to visit him. He imagined setting up an artist’s commune where they could all work, live and paint together. Only Gaugin replied. In anticipation for Gaugin’s arrival, Van Gogh started painting many paintings of sunflowers to fill Gaugin’s bedroom. 

 

Van Gogh uses broad brushstrokes, like what you see on the vase and the background which creates this sense of excitement and eagerness. He has added the paint on thickly on the flower heads to give the effect of seeds. Although painted quickly, the arrangement of the still life was planned out beforehand.

 

Looking at each individual sunflower head we can see the life of a flower which signifies adoration, admiration and platonic love. Van Gogh is often thought of as an irrational man but we see a completely different side to him. We see a man who understands the journey of life - We are born, we live and we die. The central sunflower is seen in full bloom and looking directly at us. In contrast on the right there is also a dead flower shown by the petal-less head. The flower on the right has just one final petal clinging on the head which could represent how he also understands the fragility of life, which is in turn a very rational way of looking at life.

 

I, therefore, believe this painting is the most powerful painting by Van Gogh and in some ways can be seen as a self-portrait. Through these sunflowers we see a man full of knowledge, strife and optimism who finally feels peace and is excited about the future, which is full of prospects.