The Sunflowers, 1889

The original painting of ‘The Sunflowers’ is itself a reproduction made by Van Gogh. He called it ‘an absolutely equal and identical’ copy. The first version of this painting, now in the National Gallery, London, dated from August 1888. It was meant to be part of a decoration intended for the room of Gauguin if he were to come to Arles. Vincent envisaged a narrow, orange-red frame for it that was meant to create the impression of a shining, stained-glass window.

In order to achieve this translucent effect, Vincent painted the bouquet with the ‘light on light’ technique. Two hues of luminous yellow were used next to each other and with cross-hatching in the background, thus reinforcing the painting’s luminosity. Half of the sunflowers are overblown, and their fat, seedy crowns stand out from the bright background as palpable objects.

The Van Gogh Museum Relievo Edition permits us to perceive a small zone that has been added to the original canvas, at the top of the painting. He may have done this to allow for more breathing space around the upper flowers. This strip may also have been added for spatial reasons, in order to fit the painting to an existing frame. 

By Fred Leeman Former Chief Curator of the Van Gogh Museum 20-07-2015