Famous Painters and Paintings: Van Gogh's Sunflowers

About the famous painting Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh, history and information about the work of art.


THE PAINTING: The Sunflowers. "To be sure . . . he was a man truly mad with color . . . flashes of sunlight filled his soul," wrote Paul Gauguin after he observed the many yellow sunflower studies painted by Vincent Van Gogh.

Van Gogh had invited Gauguin to share his little house of light at Arles, France, where he was convinced a new manner of painting was to be born. His yellow sunflowers played a dominant role in his experiments, unraveling the secrets of color. As he explained in a letter to his brother Theo, "Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I have before my eyes, I use color more arbitrarily in order to express myself with more force."

Work under the sun at Arles established Van Gogh as a giant in art. But when it was over, he had only one year to live.

It is often suggested that the cynical, sarcastic Gauguin drove Vincent to his breaking point. Gauguin has written that he "felt compelled" to paint the tormented artist as he worked on the still life subject he loved so much. He showed the painting to Van Gogh, who reportedly remarked, "It is certainly I, but it's I gone mad." Shortly after, Vincent attempted to kill Gauguin with a razor.

Gauguin returned to Paris. Vincent was taken to the hospital, where it seemed doubtful that he would live, and, in the opinion of many of the townsfolk, it scarcely mattered.

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