25 January – 27 April 2014
Two versions of Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers are reunited in London for the first time in 65 years.
The paintings, one of which belongs to the National Gallery and the other to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, are displayed alongside new scientific research that has been carried out by both institutions, providing insight into the artist's technique and materials, as well as exploring their relationship to each other.
In total there are five versions of the Sunflowers spread as far as Tokyo, Munich and Philadelphia. The series dates from 1888, when Van Gogh left Paris for Arles in the South of France where he rented 'The Yellow House' and invited Paul Gauguin to join him so they could paint together.
Waiting for his friend to arrive, Van Gogh created a series of pictures of sunflowers to decorate Gaugin's bedroom. Writing to his brother Theo in August he said, "I am hard at it, painting with the enthusiasm of a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse, which won't surprise you when you know that what I’m at is the painting of some sunflowers.
"If I carry out this idea there will be a dozen panels. So the whole thing will be a symphony in blue and yellow. I am working at it every morning from sunrise on, for the flowers fade so quickly. I am now on the fourth picture of sunflowers. This fourth one is a bunch of 14 flowers... it gives a singular effect."
At this time, Van Gogh had been deeply influenced by Japanese art, namely the simplicity of the design and the bright, flat colours with bold contour lines. The dying flowers are built up using the with thick brushstrokes in order to create the texture of the seed-heads. In contrast, the petals are often painted with a single, soft stroke instead.
The National Gallery bought its Sunflowers in 1924 directly from the artist’s family and from it has remained one of the most popular paintings in the collection ever since.