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Sunflowers, 1888 or 1889
Vincent Willem van Gogh, Dutch
Oil on canvas
36 3/8 x 28 inches (92.4 x 71.1 cm)
The Mr. and Mrs. Carroll S. Tyson, Jr., Collection, 1963
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About This Painting

Vincent van Gogh created this painting of twelve bright sunflowers in a simple clay jug soon after moving to Arles, a quiet, sun-drenched town in southern France, far from the noisy streets of Paris where he had been working. Excited about living in fresh, clean country air, surrounded by the vibrant colors of nature in Arles—especially the fields of sunflowers—he was also looking forward to the arrival of his friend, the artist Paul Gauguin (go-gan). Van Gogh planned to complete a series of sunflower paintings to celebrate his new beginnings and to decorate his new house and studio, "so the whole thing will be a symphony in blue and yellow." 1 In this work, van Gogh painted the flowers in various stages of growth and decay, working quickly before they wilted. Some are only partially open, several are in full bloom with their lush, yellow petals spread wide, while another is already beginning to droop.

Although he grew up seeing the detailed, realistic style of Dutch painting, van Gogh painted in an Expressionist manner, using large brushstrokes and thick paint (called impasto). Each dab is visible on the canvas, and the entire surface seems to move and come to life. Bold colors—rusty brown, rich red, dark green, and gold—as well as an array of light yellows and oranges twist and turn against the pale turquoise background above the mustard tabletop. The orange outline of the jug and the artist’s signature, "Vincent," help anchor the tossing, spiky petals.

This object is included in Learning to Look: 20 Works of Art Across Time and Cultures, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by the Comcast Foundation, The Delphi Project Foundation, and Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company.

1Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh, Arles, c. 21 August 1888, from van Gogh’s Letters, Abridged & Annotated web exhibit.


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