Vincent van Gogh - Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers 1889

Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers 1889
Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers
Oil on canvas 100.5 x 76.5 cm. Arles: January, 1889
Tokyo: Sompo Japan Museum of Art

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From Sompo Japan Museum of Art, Tokyo:
With fifteen sunflowers arranged luxuriantly in a yellow jar around a single flower with an eye-like red dot, Vincent van Gogh celebrates the vibrancy of life itself, imbuing each individual sunflower with its own expressional impact.
Van Gogh embarked upon his career as an artist relatively late in life, but left a legacy of over 2,000 pieces in a mere ten years of work. And of this rich legacy, his “sunflower” paintings are viewed as symbolizing van Gogh himself, born out of the travails of a short, intense life ended at the age of 37 when despair drove him to choose death.
Van Gogh painted twelve “sunflower” works, seven of which date from his Arles Period, perhaps the painter’s artistic high-water mark. Seeking the bright Japanese quality of light seen in Ukiyoe wodblock prints, the artist settled in Arles in the south of France, where he rented the “yellow house” dreaming of establishing a colony of artists. He had planned to decorate the room he prepared for Gauguin with twelve “Sunflowers.” Unfortunately, the “sunflower,” project ended at seven, and his communal life with Gauguin ended after only two months.
This work is painted on a portion of a 20-meter sheet of canvas purchased by Gauguin when he came to live and work with van Gogh in Arles. Gauguin’s “L’Allee des Alyscamps, Arles” is also painted on canvas from this sheet.

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Wednesday, 8 August 1888.
My dear Theo,
I’ve just sent off 3 large drawings, as well as some other, smaller ones and the two lithographs by De Lemud.
The vertical small farmhouse garden is, it seems to me, the best of the three large ones. The one with the sunflowers is the little garden of a bathhouse.
The third, horizontal, garden is the one of which I’ve also done some painted studies.
Under the blue sky, the orange, yellow, red patches of flowers take on an amazing brilliance, and in the limpid air there’s something happier and more suggestive of love than in the north. It vibrates — like the bouquet by Monticelli that you have. I’m annoyed with myself for not painting flowers here. Anyway, even having already produced about fifty drawings or painted studies here, I feel as though I’ve done absolutely nothing at all. I’d gladly content myself with being nothing but a pioneer for other, future painters who’ll come to work in the south. Now the harvest, the garden, the sower and the two seascapes are croquis after painted studies. I believe that all these ideas are good, but the painted studies lack clarity of touch. One more reason why I felt the need to draw them.
I wanted to paint a little old peasant who had an enormous resemblance to our father in his features. Only he was more common, and verged on caricature. Nevertheless, I would have been enormously keen to do him just as he was as a little peasant. He promised to come, and then he said that he ought to have the painting for himself, and so I had to do two the same, one for him and one for me. I told him no. Perhaps he’ll come back some day. I’m curious to know if you knew the De Lemuds.
At the moment there are still plenty of fine lithographs to be had, Daumiers, reproductions of Delacroix, Decamps, Diaz, Rousseau, Dupré, &c. Soon, though, it’ll be over, and what a great pity that this art tends to disappear.
Why is it that we don’t hold on to what we have, the way doctors and mechanics do? Once something has been discovered and found, they keep the knowledge of it; in these wretched fine arts we forget everything, we hold on to nothing.
Millet gave us the essence of the peasant, and now, yes, there’s Lhermitte, it’s true there are one or two more, Meunier.... and have we now more generally learned how to see peasants — no, hardly anyone knows how to polish one off.
Isn’t it partly the fault of Paris and the Parisians, fickle and disloyal like the sea? Well then, you’re damned right to say, let’s go quietly on our way, working for ourselves. You know, whatever becomes of sacrosanct Impressionism, I’d still myself have the wish to do the things that the previous generation, Delacroix, Millet, Rousseau, Diaz, Monticelli, Isabey, Decamps, Dupré, Jongkind, Ziem, Israëls, Meunier, a heap of others, Corot, Jacque... could understand.
Ah, Manet was really really close to it, and Courbet, to marrying form and colour. Me, I’d be quite happy to stay silent for 10 years doing nothing but studies, then do one or two figure paintings.
The old plan, so often recommended and so rarely carried out. If the drawings that I send you are too stiff, it’s because I did them in such a way as to be able later, if they’re still there, to use them as information for painting.
This vertical small farmhouse garden is superbly coloured in reality. The dahlias are a rich and dark purple, the double row of flowers is pink and green on one side and orange almost without greenery on the other. In the middle a low, white dahlia and a little pomegranate tree, with flowers of the most brilliant orange red, yellow-green fruit, the ground grey, the tall reeds — ‘canes’ — of a blue green, the fig trees emerald, the sky blue, the houses white with green windows, red roofs. In full sun in the morning, in the evening entirely bathed in shadow cast by the fig trees and reeds. If Quost was there, or Jeannin.... What can you say, to encompass everything you’d need an entire school of people working together in the same area, complementing each other like the old Dutch: portrait painters, genre painters, landscape painters, painters of animals, still-life painters.
Must also tell you that I made a very interesting tour round the farms with someone who knows the area. But you know that in the real Provence it’s more often small peasant farming à la Millet than anything else.
MacKnight and Boch don’t understand much of it, or rather, nothing. Now if I myself am beginning to see it a bit more clearly, I’d need a good long stay to do it.
At times it nevertheless seems likely to me that I’ll have to make the journey myself if Gauguin doesn’t manage to sort out the mess he’s in, if we want to put the plan into practice. And then so be it, I’m still among peasants anyway, it’s the same. It’s even my opinion that we should try to keep ourselves ready to go to him, because I believe that he could soon be in terrible straits again if, for example, his landlord won’t give him any more credit.
That’s so predictable, and his distress could be so great that it might be urgent to put the partnership into practice. For me there’s only the one-way journey, and the prices over there that he has mentioned are in any case considerably lower than what one inevitably spends here. I’m counting on having your letter on Saturday morning. I’ve bought two more canvases, so I now have just 5 francs left, and it’s already Wednesday evening.
Here, in days with no money, there’s just one more advantage over the north, the fine weather (because even the mistral is fine weather to look at).
Really glorious sunshine, in which Voltaire dried himself off while drinking his coffee.
You can’t help feeling Zola and Voltaire everywhere. It’s so full of life! In the style of Jan Steen, in the style of Ostade.
There would certainly be the possibility of a school of painting here. But you’ll say that nature is beautiful everywhere if one goes into it deeply enough.
Have you read Madame Chrysanthème yet, have you made the acquaintance of that pimp ‘of a surprising courtesy’, Monsieur Kangourou? And of the sugared peppers, the fried ices and the salted sweets?

I’ve been very, very well these last few days; in the long run I believe that I’ll belong to these parts in all respects.
In the peasant’s garden I saw the figure of a woman carved in wood, originally from the prow of a Spanish ship. It was in a grove of cypresses, and it was pure Monticelli.
Ah, these farmhouse gardens with the lovely big red Provence roses, the vines, the fig trees; it’s quite poetic, and the eternal strong sun, in spite of which the foliage stays very green.
The tank, out of which clear water flows that irrigates the farm through channels forming a little canal system. An old, pure white Camargue horse drives the machinery. No cows on these little farms.
My neighbour and his wife (grocers) strongly resemble the Buteaux, for example.
But here, farmhouse and cheap grog-shops are less gloomy, less tragic than in the north, because the heat &c. makes poverty less hard and melancholy. I’d so much like you to have seen this part of the country. Well, first we’ll have to see how the Gauguin business turns out.
I haven’t told you yet that I’ve had a letter from Koning; I wrote to him a week ago. I can easily see him coming back sometime. Is Mourier still there?
I’d be quite surprised if that book by Cassagne was no longer in existence. They’d certainly know it at Latouche’s or at the artists’ colourman in Chaussée d’Antin. Or know where it is. If I should ever happen to give drawing lessons, or have to talk with painters about the principles of technique, I’ll have to have it to hand.
It’s THE ONLY genuinely practical book that I know, and I know a little from experience how useful it is.
Mourier, MacKnight, even Boch, all of them would need it, and how many others. MacKnight keeps coming.
I’ve worked on another figure of a Zouave, sitting on a bench against a white wall, which makes the fifth figure.
This morning I was at a washing-place with figures of women as broad as Gauguin’s negresses.
One in particular, in white-black-pink.
Another all yellow; there were a good thirty of them, young and old. I hope to send you still more croquis of painted studies.
Hoping to have news from you soon. Handshake.
Ever yours,