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

The Masters | Claude Monet’s Bouquet of Sunflowers

Claude Monet. Bouquet of Sunflowers. 1881. Oil on Canvas. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

All of our “masters” posts thus far have focused on sunflowers growing in their natural spaces, so today we turn to still life with Claude Monet’s (1840-1926) “Bouquet of Sunflowers.” Monet was one of the founders of the Impressionist Movement, and this masterpiece was exhibited at the Seventh Impressionist Exhibition. The bouquet was arranged and staged with sunflowers that grew along the path to his garden in Vetheuil (France).

If you do a little Google research you will find comparisons of Monet’s and Vincent van Gogh’s sunflowers. Even the greats like Paul Gaugin and Van Gogh himself compared the two–Gaugin favoring Van Gogh’s over Monet’s and Van Gogh “conceding” that Monet’s is the better of the two.

For me, there is no comparison. Each artist brought his gifts to the canvas and presented the sunflower in his own unique and timeless style.

You will know

When God has taken up residence in your heart.
How?
Your spirit will move with swifts and striving,
you won’t be caught just thinking about things.
For this God of ours is not a God of thoughts
so much as a God alive.

Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows

#ThursdayTreeLove | The Masters | Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflower Tree with “Room to Grow”

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

Of course, I realize this is not a tree, but if a sunflower were a tree—this is what it would look like, towering over us all with all its sunny goodness—maybe with a few more blossoms.

I’d planned a different Vincent van Gogh post for this week, but since today is “tree love” Thursday, I decided to try passing off a sunflower as a tree. This is the type of sunflower that my student Wanéa finds a little scary. No flower should be taller than a human, in her opinion, so for her sake, yes, let’s consider this a tree.

Please enjoy van Gogh’s Allotment with Sunflower with a meditation for the restless soul:

Room to Grow
Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows

My life is like a page on which
So much is already:

hurts and joys and the tumble
of fears and uncertainties.

What You want of me, God, is
that I clean the slate, emptying

it of all this to make room for
the freedom of nothingness

where alone You, my God,
have room to grow.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

The Masters | Gustav Klimt’s Sunflowers in Gardens

Gustav Klimt. Bauerngarten mit Sonnenblumen (1905/1906). Belvedere Palace and Museum, Vienna.

What is the purpose of creation?
That everything might simply be. —Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows, from “Lesson I” (Unlearning)

Since we’re on the subject of postcards from Eileen V, I might as well share the two Klimt postcards she sent last year. Eileen keeps me well supplied with sunflowers, so it was with pleasure that she sent and I received–not one but–two sunflower postcards featuring the work of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918). Klimt was a Symbolist painter and a founding member of the  Vienna Secession (Art Nouveau) movement.

Despite his extensive portfolio. I am, unsurprisingly, drawn most to his sunflower pieces.

The piece above is entitled Bauerngarten mit Sonnenblumen  (or Farm Garden with Sunflowers). My camera and I would love to explore such a garden exploding with color.  [Note: I have seen four different dates assigned to this work, so I am not sure of the correct date–1905-1906, 1912, 1913, 1916–but 1905/06 seems more likely].

The second scene, Die Sonnenblume (or The Sunflower), could have been extracted from another part of the garden presented in the first piece–though that is clearly not the case.

Klimt

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), “Die Sonnenblume” (“The Sunflower”), 1906/1907, Private Collection, Vienna

The scan does very little for this postcard. The broad leaves of the sunflower are trimmed in gold and the postcard itself features gilded edges. Unfortunately, the scan rendered them a strange, dark color, which wasn’t visually appealing (so I cropped away the border). Notwithstanding the subpar scan, Her Majesty is pretty impressive.

For a glimpse of the unaltered original, click here: Die Sonnenblume, and for Farm Garden with Sunflowers, click here: Bauerngarten mit Sonnenblumen [Be sure to click the links above to learn a little about the artist and the works].

Klimt gifted us sunflowers and gardens that serve no other purpose but to live gloriously in their natural state. Their brilliance beckons us and we simply stand in awe.

Wild Silver!

How do you feel about another museum trip?

The Huntsville Museum of Art Buccellati: A Silver Menagerie is another must-see exhibit, and since you can’t be here, I’m bringing some of the pieces to you. I have fewer photographs than I had for last week’s visit showing of the American Studio Glass Exhibit, but the pieces are just as fascinating.

The exhibit features selections from the Museum’s permanent collection of  silver creations designed and fabricated in Italy by the luxury jewelry firm of Buccellati. They were donated by Betty Grisham of Huntsville, Alabama. According to the museum’s website, the Huntsville Museum of Art holds the world’s largest public collection of these unique works of art.

Each piece was designed by Italian jeweler, Gianmaria Buccellati.

Lion, 2000. 925 Sterling.

The present house of Buccellati was founded in 1919 in Milan, Italy and originated what is known as the Buccellati style, which combines Renaissance period techniques, luxury materials, and the extensive use of texture engraving to create objects of great beauty. This distinctive style won favor with a discriminating international clientele, including the Vatican as well as the Royal Houses of Italy, Spain, Belgium, England and Egypt. —Huntsville Museum of Art

Bear, 1997. 925 Sterling.

Gianmaria Buccellati carries on the family tradition today as an internationally renowned silversmith.  He has dedicated his life to creating extraordinary objects that exemplify fine Italian craftsmanship.  –Huntsville Museum of Art

Bear, 1997. 925 Sterling.

His signature silver animals replicate creatures from earth, sea, and sky in a highly realistic manner. Buccellati invented a new method of working in silver to capture fine detail like feathers, hair, or different types of skin, known as “lavorazione a pelo” or “hair-like workmanship.” —Huntsville Museum of Art

Giraffe, 1994. 800 Silver.

An animal reproduced “a pelo” is the result of welding countless silver filaments of varying length and thickness to give the actual appearance of the natural coat. It is a demanding method that requires the highest level of skill and an absolute mastery of soldering techniques. —Huntsville Museum of Art

Tortoise, 2006. 925 Silver.

Animals with the hair-like workmanship were originally produced in 800 silver, which is stronger but less pure than 925 sterling due to its higher alloy content. This was because the intense heat of soldering used in the creation of the animals would have melted the very thin filaments if they were sterling, but the Buccellati artisans were able to invent a new technique of soldering that allowed them to work within the heat tolerance of sterling silver. As a result, all animals produced since 1995 have been created in 925 sterling.  –Huntsville Museum of Art

Swan, 2000. 925 Silver.

Swan, 2000. 925 Silver.

Marine Centerpiece, 1997. 925 Sterling. Amethyst Geode.

I somehow missed photographing the flamingo, which, like the giraffe, is considered a highlight of the collection, but you can see it here on Flickr. [Tip: If you move backwards or forwards in the Flickr album, you’ll see other animals I did not photograph].

My favorites–you guessed it–are the lion and the bear. I just can’t wrap my mind around the exquisite crafting of the hair and fur! The giraffe is über cute and I’m intrigued by the sea creatures. The whole collection is mesmerizing–which is probably why I missed photographing some of the animals.

Do you have a favorite?

Blown Glass and Reflections

Since we are [hopefully] still “sheltering-in-place,” this [not so] #WordlessWednesday is a good time for a museum visit, so I’m sharing some shots from a trip to the Huntsville Museum of Art last summer.

I shared a few photographs from the A New Moon Rises exhibit and a photograph of Breathing from the American Studio Glass exhibit late last year.

Today, we’ll explore more pieces from the American Studio Glass exhibit which is on continuous view at the Huntsville Museum of Art.

Two galleries in the Davidson Wing provide the Museum a showcase for its outstanding holding of American Studio Glass. The collection was initiated in 1995 with the purchase of Cam Langley’s Three Flower Vase, and has grown to nearly four-dozen pieces. Several of the movement’s icons are represented in the collection, as well as nationally and regionally significant voices. The Collection encompasses a wide range of different techniques, including blowing, flame working, casting, and carving. Also included are works combining glass with other materials such as wood, rope, paint, gold and silver leaf, and manipulated imagery. The Museum is pleased to highlight the creativity and variety of the American Studio Glass movement with this exhibit.  –from Huntsville Museum of Art website.

The pieces, primarily made of glass, are all so fascinating that it was difficult to leave the gallery and nearly impossible to pick a favorite.

Keep in mind that I was photographing glass through glass, so obviously, there are a lot of reflections in the photos. Even though you can’t see the pure elegance of each piece, the reflections add a bit of interest to the photos.

Stephen Rolfe Powell (b. 1951, Birmingham, Alabama/d. 2019, Danville, KY). Bodacious Gasp Johnson, 1994.

Blown glass, 30x24x6 inches. Museum purchase in memory of Elinor “Nell” Francis, Paula Frederick, Jewel Halsey, Lieutenant Colonel LeRoy F. Lawson, Kay Ludwig, Loretta G. Och, Leonard Walker Peeler, Dorris Weems, Robert Wiggins, and Helen Yager.

Mary Van Cline (b. 1954, Dallas, TX/lives in Seattle, WA). The Healing Winds of Time, 1997. Photosensitive glass, cast black glass, copper patina.

John Littleton and Kate Vogel (JL b. 1957, Madison, WI; KV b. 1956, Cambridge, England/live in Bakersville, NC). Light Vessel, 2008.

John’s hands cast in amber glass, holding cut disk, interior red, ruby gold leaf with gold ring mica, purple ring and fiberglass painted with glass enamel. Museum purchase, funds provided by Alice Chang.

Thomas Farbanish (b. 1963, Endicott, NY/lives in Bellefonte, PA). Untitled, 1995. Blown glass, acid etched.

Dale Chihuly (b. 1941, Tacoma, WA/lives in Seattle, WA). Imperial Iris Persian Set with Chartreuse Lip, 1999. Blow glass (editioned).  Gift of Alice Chang in honor of Peter J. Baldaia.

Dale Chihuly (b. 1941, Tacoma, WA/lives in Seattle, WA). Red Amber Persian Pair, 2010. Blow glass (editioned).  Gift of Alice Chang in honor of David J. Reyes.

Dante Marioni (b. 1964, Mill Valley, CA/lives in Seattle, WA). Orange Trio, 1996. Blown glass.

Museum purchase, Gala Acquisition Fund.

Ginny Ruffner (b. Atlanta, GA/lives in Seattle, WA). Dancing Box, 2007.

Stainless steel and glass.

Gift of the artist in honor of the Women’s Guild of the Huntsville Museum of Art.

Cappy Thompson (b. 1952, Alexandria, VA/lives in Olympia, WA). Riding Fearless into the Future, 1994. Vitreous enamels on blown glass.

Museum purchase in memory of Harry Rhett, Jr.

Judith LaScola (b. 1955, Pittsburgh, PA/lives in Stamwood, WA). Slumped Series with Winter Bowl, 1996.

Blown, carved, and painted glass, gold leaf. Gift of Alice Chang.

Judith LaScola (b. 1955, Pittsburgh, PA/lives in Stamwood, WA). Yen Series/Gold and Midnight Blue, 1996.

Blown, carved, and painted glass, gold leaf.

Museum purchase, funds provided by Al and Marcy Haraway, the Boeing Company, and the Gala Acquisition Fund.

That’s it for my little taste of the collection. If you want to learn more about the collection, do visit the Huntsville Museum of Arts website.

Summer is always a good time to catch up on museums and galleries, and that doesn’t have to change because COVID-19 has forced museums worldwide to close. Many, many museums are offering virtual museum tours. Search using your favorite search engine or begin with the list of 75 museums offering virtual tours I stumbled on earlier today. That should fill your artsy cup to the brim.

Until next time…

“When Giving Is All We Have”

Terrance Osborne, “Front Line”

This morning as we began our final Shakespeare session for the semester (sad face), one of my students requested prayer for the nurses who are suffering under the strain of watching far too many patients die as a result of COVID-19. Just moments before that, I read a Facebook post in which one of my friends, Dr. Scharmaine Lawson, a Nurse Practitioner and author, announced that after prayerful consideration, she’s heading to New York City to help with the COVID-19 relief effort there.

I often think about the health care professionals who are on the front line of this thing day after day after day. No matter how well-trained they are, no matter how often they see death, it is still inexplicably HARD.  The connections between nurse and patient or doctor and patient–however brief–matter, and every death carries emotional weight. With COVID-19 doctors and nurses are bearing witness to far more than the “usual” and they are still out there, weighed down with the grief and burden of so much loss, fighting to save lives.

Some might wonder why someone like Dr. Lawson, a busy NP with a booming practice and a very full life of her own, would uproot and rush into this daunting challenge. Albert RÍos’ poem provides the answers—not only for why we give in the big ways but also why we do so in our smaller, daily interactions.

When Giving Is All We Have
Alberto RÍos

One river gives
Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

About this poem, RÍos wrote:

This is a poem of thanks to those who live lives of service, which, I think, includes all of us—from the large measure to the smallest gesture, from care-giving to volunteerism to being an audience member or a reader.  I’ve been able to offer these words to many groups, not only as a poem but also as a recognition. We give for so many reasons, and are bettered by it.  –from poets.org

Thank you to our health care professionals and to all our public servants and other essential workers for whom the stay-at-home order does not apply.  Thank you to all of you who give daily in your own spaces, outside your own spaces, and “in-between” spaces. We are making something new, something beautiful when we give.


About the image: The image above is the work of New Orleans artist, Terrance Osborne. He created Front Line—a nod to Rosie the Riveter—“to show the men and women on the front line that we love and support them.” [Did you catch the fleur de lis–symbol of New Orleans?] Osborne generously offered the image above as a free phone screen saver and gave 1000 posters to local hospitals. A lithograph ($75 signed; $40 unsigned) can be purchased via his website. To see more of this phenomenal artist’s work, please go to his website. You’ll feel like you’ve just taken a tour of my beloved hometown.