Van Gogh Owns the Sunflower

Many artists have their own personal favorite motives, which they paint numerous times. I am not here talking about silk screens and other things that made the numerous images generated by e.g. Andy Warhol famous. Rather I am talking about truly painting the same type of motive over and over again. It can be done for numerous reasons, from an interest in the specific subject to an exploration of e.g. the effects of light.
Sometimes, the study makes the subject so tied to the specific artist that they are hard to separate. Paintings by other artists of the same motive seem less relevant. Claude Monet for instance owned the Water Lily. He painted them in his garden in Giverny hundreds of times. However, even though it was also painted by Monet, the sunflower belongs to Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh took a liking to the flower, which he had also seen Gauguin paint, and created a whole series of paintings depicting the sunflower. The most famous among these very similar works is probably Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers painted by Van Gogh in 1888.
There is a depth to the paintings that allow them to grow on you and expand in the expressive impression the longer you gaze upon it. Add to that the thick brush strokes of Van Gogh that allows the flowers to reach out of the canvas towards you, and the effect is almost hypnotic. At the same time, the richness of the colors, typical of Van Gogh but no less extraordinary for that, speaks to you and brings across the warmth and almost joyous nature of the flowers.
Van Gogh himself was also very pleased with these paintings. He wrote to his brother Theo:
“It is a kind of painting that rather changes in character, and takes on a richness the longer you look at it. Besides, you know, Gauguin likes them extraordinarily. He said to me among other things – ” flower.’ You know that the peony is Jeannin’s, the hollyhock belongs to Quost, but the sunflower is somewhat my own.”
Indeed his own it was. Both Monet and Gauguin painted Sunflowers as well, but neither reached the richness and depth achieved on several occasions by Van Goghs work. The sublime mastery of this motive made it his own.
Being among the most celebrated works of one of the worlds most celebrated artists of course also means that such Sunflowers do not come cheap. Indeed, one version was sold at Christies in 1987 for USD 40 million. At that time, this was a record setting sum to be paid for a painting. However, there are also copies available at places that can be accessed through a simple entrance fee. The Vase With Fifteen Sunflowers can for instance be found at the National Gallery in London, England. Visiting this classic yet ever modern piece of art is certainly worth the trip there. And if London is not your thing, versions can be seen at museums from Tokyo to Amsterdam, Munich to Philadelphia and beyond. You should see it. It is living art history and it is worth it.