Vincent van Gogh, ‘Sunflowers’, 1889, Philadelphia Museum of Art

While he waited for Paul Gauguin to join him in the Provençal city of Arles in 1888, Vincent van Gogh painted five audaciously decorative still lifes of sunflowers in simple earthenware jugs. At least two of these canvases decorated Gauguin's bedroom when he reached the city late in October, and the French painter came to admire them greatly. Always defensive about the tragic outcome of his stay--it ended with Van Gogh's self-mutilation and madness--Gauguin later claimed that the sunflower paintings directly reflected his own good advice, generously offered in Arles, that his Dutch friend avoid monotony by adding "bugle notes" of brilliant color to his paintings. Whether the Philadelphia Sunflowers precedes Gauguin's visit or is one of two replicas Van Gogh painted the following year, it is an explosion of brilliant color and agitated outlines the twelve flowers as full of angular energy and as vital and vivid in personality as the artist who painted them. Christopher Riopelle, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 207.

The Mr. and Mrs. Carroll S. Tyson, Jr., Collection, 1963

About Vincent van Gogh

Primarily self-taught and unappreciated during his lifetime, Vincent van Gogh made over 900 paintings and 1,100 works on paper during the decade that he worked as an artist. Influenced by Jean-Francois Millet and the Barbizon School artists, van Gogh’s early work comprises dour portraits of Dutch peasants and depressing rural landscapes. In 1886-88 he moved to Paris, where Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism had a big impact on his painting. He brightened his palette, experimented with shorter brushstrokes, impasto, and complementary colors. The paintings he made in Paris announce the bolder Post-Impressionist style that he is best known for today. Emotionally unstable, humorless, and argumentative, van Gogh eventually had a breakdown and moved to an asylum in the south of France where he painted landscapes, portraits, interiors and still lifes steeped with personal symbolism.

Dutch, 1853-1890, Zundert, Netherlands, based in Arles, France, Saint-Rémy, France and Auvers-sur-Oise, France

Exhibition Highlights

2017
Fort Worth,
A Modern Vision: European Masterworks from the Phillips Collection
2016
Amsterdam,
On the Verge of Insanity. Van Gogh and his illness