This infamous portrait of sunflowers was envisioned by Van Gogh as a gift for his friend and colleague Paul Gauguin, in order to decorate his sparse living quarters in Arles, France. It was one in a series of paintings that Van Gogh painted depicting sunflowers at various stages of life blossoming to wilting. The paintings were considered innovative in 1888 because of the use of yellow, that was enhanced by newly invented pigments. “It is a kind of painting that rather changes in character, and takes on a richness the longer you look at it,” Van Gogh wrote to his younger brother Theo.
“The desire comes over me to remake myself and try to have myself forgiven for the fact that my paintings are, however, almost a cry of anguish while symbolizing gratitude in the rustic sunflower.” Vincent van Gogh to Willemien van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, 19 February 1890