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 | John Bratby’s Sunflowers

John Bratby, Sunflowers I, Oil on Canvas

For our final week of Sunflower Month we will survey a few sunflower masterpieces–works of the sunflower masters that leave us in awe. We cannot possibly feature all the masters, so we will focus on [some of] those who are featured in my personal “sunflower collection.”

The sunflower art above is featured on the cover of Book of the Heart, so it is perfect for our first post of the week. The oil painting was one of many sunflower paintings by English artist John Bratby (1928-1992), best known for his central role in the Kitchen Sink School of Art, a style of realism active in London between 1952 and 1957.

We have reached the point in the pandemic at which we are all overwhelmed, anxious, and restless, so I will be sharing with this week’s sunnies selections from Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart: Meditations for a Restless Soul. In this collection Jon M. Sweeney and Mark S. Burrows “attempt to [re]voice” the mystic’s thoughts. I hope the posts brighten your days (sunflowers) and stills your soul (Eckhart).

“Sometimes You Have to Break Things”
Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows

It’s true:
Sometimes you have
to break things
if you want
to grasp God in them.
In the breaking,
we allow what is holy
to take form
in us.  

Be sure to click the links to learn more about Bratby and his art and be sure to join us for more, more, more brilliant masterpieces!

Terracotta Warriors Postcard

Terra-cotta Warriors, Xian China

I figured since the last two posts featured Chinese art postcards, I might as well finish the blog week by sharing another postcard which also features Chinese art.

The postcard above, “Terra-cotta Warriors,” features a small part of a collection of life-size sculptures of the army of Qin Shi Huangdi (259-210 BCE), the first Emperor of China–who unified China and laid the foundation for the Great Wall. As funerary art, the collection was buried with the emperor to serve as protection for him in the afterlife.

In a Live Science article Owen Jarus, comments on the artistic details of the sculptures:

The details of the warriors are so intricate and individualized that it has been hypothesized that they were based on real soldiers who served in the emperor’s army. Each warrior has uniquely styled hair and features; some have topknots while others have goatees; some have caps and loose tunics while others have armored vests and braided hair. They have different builds, expressions and postures. Another key feature is that the warriors were decorated in bright colors, which contributed to the individuation.

You can read all about the 1974 discovery, in the Shaanxi province in northwest China, of the first (nearly) 2000 of the 8000+ known warriors interred with the emperor: Terra Cotta Soldiers on the March.

And if you wish to read further, see the article by Jarus referenced above, which provides more details about the contents of the pits found near the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi: Terracotta Warriors: An Army for the Afterlife.

Until next time…

#ThursdayTreeLove | The Trees of Lan Ying’s Quiet Village

Lin Yang Country Scene

Country Scenery (Partial), Lan Ying, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Ink and color on silk.

Since we’re on the subject of postcards from China, I’m sharing another one for today’s #ThursdayTreeLove. This postcard features the work of 17th century Chinese artist, Lan Ying (1585-1684), an artist of the Ming Dynasty. Based on my limited knowledge of his work, his art features impressive landscapes, typically with trees in the foreground.

Of his collection Landscapes of the Four Seasons, one reviewer wrote:

Foreground trees are always superb manifestations of his painterly craft. Comfortably shifting between the descriptive and the expressive modes, the diverse trees with their vivaciously gestural bodies and diverse foliage patterns provide sustained visual excitement as one progresses through the seasons.

Not surprisingly, I was drawn to the trees before I took in the entire scene of the village nestled between the trees. This enchanting [partial] view could have been entitled Trees of the Village, instead of Country Scenery, and that’s why the postcard has found its way on my blog for #ThursdayTreeLove.

Like another classical Chinese masterpiece shared on the blog a couple of years ago–Peace Reigns Over the River–this postcard is from the set, Chinese Classical Paintings and Calligraphy Work. Cy sent a number of pieces from this collection.

Lan Ying’s work is mesmerizing. If you’d like to explore more, be sure to “right click” on the image above for a closer look and click the links below:


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.