The delicate beauty of flowers has long inspired the works of writers, musicians, and artists alike. One such example of this is the series of paintings created by famous artist Vincent Van Gogh, titled Sunflowers.
Among this collection are three nearly identical paintings of fifteen sunflowers, followed by two equally identical paintings of twelve sunflowers. These five paintings were done while he was living in Arles, a city located in the south of France, in August of 1888. The later similar paintings were done early in the following year.
The first of the paintings was created to serve as decoration in his friend Paul Gauguin’s home. Thus began the Sunflower series. The paintings depict sunflowers in all stages of life, from early bloom to nearly the end of the flower’s existence, where the petals are depicted as wilting away.
These paintings were unique at the time because of their vivid yellow color. New pigments had just been invented which made the coloring possible. The brightness of the flowers was something that people hadn’t seen, and thus made the paintings immediately valuable.
Van Gogh, in a letter he wrote to his brother, explained, The sunflower is mine in a way. He was speaking of the true uniqueness and innovation of the appearance of the painting relative to other paintings he and his contemporaries had done.
In March 1987, the true worth of these paintings was displayed when Japanese insurance magnate Yasuo Goto paid nearly $40 million for one of the paintings in the series. This was a new record for Van Gogh paintings. At the time, he may have made the purchase for himself or for the company he owned, which was called the Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance Company of Japan. Either way, the painting now rests in the Seiji Togo Yasuda Memorial Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. Following the purchase was a brief scandal in which the painting was suspected to be a forgery; however, it was concluded to be genuine.
Van Gogh was struck by the inherent beauty in these simple flowers. He was inspired by their hope in the first bloom and their honesty in their wilting death. He was not alone in that opinion; his work was followed by many similar paintings. Even in modern contemporary art, we find a vast majority of still life paintings to be inspired by flowers in various stages of life and death.