By Anna Karzel

Edited by Aimée Dhonte

When talking about sunflowers, one would think about the flower, bright and yellow, which follows the sun. However, even though they are not the most famous ones, the greatest sunflowers are the ones depicted on the paintings of Vincent van Gogh: the painter of sunflowers.

Vincent van Gogh is one of the most renowned painters in the world. This Dutch painter is notoriously known for cutting his ear off. But that isn’t and shouldn’t be the only thing he is famous for. His works were expressive, his use of colour is considered very emotional, and his brushwork was exceptionally distinct. All this heavily contributed to the art world, as these striking aspects of his works influenced art movements like Expressionism, Fauvism, and early abstraction. Despite everything van Gogh is praised for, he became famous only after his death. During his life, van Gogh sold one single painting and he relied on financial support from his brother, Theo van Gogh. His life was accompanied by depression and episodes of acute psychological distress (this includes anxiety, intense fear or helplessness, dissociative symptoms, and avoidance behaviours). It is safe to say that his life was sad, which is very ironic, since his most well-known paintings – the sunflowers – are so bright and so joyful, a total opposite of van Gogh’s life and personality. 

Vincent van Gogh wanted to be known as the painter of sunflowers. His dream came true, as he is famous for his paintings of sunflowers in a vase. Vincent even wrote to his brother once stating that his ‘trademark’ is a sunflower and that he ‘owns’ it. He actually made multiple versions of this painting, each of them slightly different. Vincent painted those with only three shades of yellow, one reason for this being experimentation with colours and the second being hat the colour yellow was meant to illuminate van Gogh’s dark days (as he suffered with depression). “Sunflowers” communicates gratitude, as Vincent wrote. They held a special significance to van Gogh, since they were painted during a rare period of optimism, and they are considered as a symbol of happiness. 

Illustration by Alina Badale

Sunflowers can nowadays be found in all corners of the world, from Philadelphia, through Amsterdam, London, and Munich, to Tokyo. The most known painting is located in The National Gallery in London, suffered not a long time ago a huge shock. The painting is the fourth version of the sunflowers, from August 1888, with an estimated worth of 86 million euros. On October 14, 2022, two activists from ‘Just Stop Oil’ threw tomato soup on the Sunflowers and then glued themselves to the wall. ‘Just Stop Oil’ demands that the UK ends their reliance on fossil fuels, and they urge the UK government to start investing in renewable energy. Thankfully, the painting was protected with a glass screen and only the frame suffered from damages. 

In conclusion, Sunflowers constitute an essential part of art history. They also held a special place in the heart of a sad and lonely artist, being a symbol of happiness and bright days. Sunflowers were something van Gogh – who had nothing – considered always his own. Society should follow in Vincent’s footsteps and look for small everyday things and find joy in them, because sometimes, it is the only place where joy can be found.

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