The Masters | Anguish and Gratitude: Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers with Heart

Vincent Van Gogh. “Three Sunflowers in a Vase.” Oil on Canvas. August, 1888, Arles. United States. Private Collection.

I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you with all the sunflower goodness this week. Sadly, we’re just two more posts away from the end of “Sunflower Month.”

I am clearly intrigued by the approach of the masters to the sunflower. Many of them seem to have been as taken with its luminescent beauty as I am. I am in no way an artist like the masters featured all week, but sunflowers are certainly the most doodled flower in my journals, sketchbooks, and letters.

When I began this final week of “Sunflower Month,” I had intended to do only three posts, but I got a little carried away because there were more than three sunflower masters in my collection. My favorite, Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Dutch Post-Impressionist, was always on the list. Let’s consider the “sunflower tree” a bonus post, because this week of masters will not be complete without attention to his still life sunflower series—especially with the final masters post I have in mind. 😉

Vincent Van Gogh. “Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers.” Oil on Canvas. August 1888, Arles. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

From 1888-1889, van Gogh completed seven sunflower still life masterpieces in the studio he shared with Paul Gaugin in Arles, France. He had intended to fill the walls with their brilliance before Gaugin’s arrival. The two featured above are in my postcard collection, thanks to Debbie T, my Love Notes pal (Twelve Sunflowers), and Eepy on swap-bot (Three Sunflowers).

There are four others in the Sunflower Series that were completed in 1887 in Paris. One of them–Four Cut Sunflowers (below)– took my breath away the first time I saw it!

Vincent Van Gogh. Allotment with Sunflower, Paris, July 1887. Oil on Canvas. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation).

In a letter to his sister Willemien, van Gogh writes:

[…] 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.  (Letter 856)

Perhaps this tension explains why van Gogh’s “still life” sunflowers are anything but “still.” Each sunflower–in the vases or cut and wilting on a table–is full of personality, life, and movement. Each evokes an emotional response.

I read somewhere that van Gogh wanted to be remembered for his brilliant sunflowers (goal accomplished!) and that people honored his desire by wearing sunflowers to his funeral.

What a radiant sendoff!

Like the Heart

Let me seek You
in the darkness
of my silence

and find You
in the silence
of Your light.

which is
love shining
like the sun

flowing
like a river
and joying

like the heart

Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows

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