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

Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers 1889
Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers
Oil on canvas 92.0 x 72.5 cm. Arles: January, 1889
Philadelphia: The Philadelphia Museum of Art

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From Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections
While he waited for Paul Gauguin to join him in the Provençal city of Arles in 1888, Vincent van Gogh painted five audaciously decorative still lifes of sunflowers in simple earthenware jugs. At least two of these canvases decorated Gauguin's bedroom when he reached the city late in October, and the French painter came to admire them greatly. Always defensive about the tragic outcome of his stay--it ended with Van Gogh's self-mutilation and madness--Gauguin later claimed that the sunflower paintings directly reflected his own good advice, generously offered in Arles, that his Dutch friend avoid monotony by adding "bugle notes" of brilliant color to his paintings. Whether the Philadelphia Sunflowers precedes Gauguin's visit or is one of two replicas Van Gogh painted the following year, it is an explosion of brilliant color and agitated outlines the twelve flowers as full of angular energy and as vital and vivid in personality as the artist who painted them. Christopher Riopelle, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 207.

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Thursday, 9 August 1888.
My dear Theo,
I thank you very much for sending the canvas and the colours, which have just arrived.
This time there was carriage of 9.80 francs to pay, so I won’t go to collect them until after I’ve received your next letter, as I don’t have the money at the moment. But we’ll have to check whether Tasset, who in most cases pays postage and certainly then shows postage on his invoice, hasn’t done so in this case. Also, I paid 5.60 francs for the last consignment but one, and so if carriage charges are shown on the last invoice but one, it would be too much. Now if he’d made 2 separate consignments (the cost of carriage is usually about 3 francs), there should only be 5.60 francs to pay for this consignment.
Provided I don’t paint anything on these 10 metres of canvas but masterpieces measuring half a metre, which I’ll sell for cash and at an exorbitant price to the distinguished art lover of rue de la Paix — nothing should be easier — than to earn a lot of money with this consignment.
I think it’s likely that we’re going to have great heat now, with no wind, the wind having blown for 6 weeks. In that case, it’s excellent that I have colours and canvases in stock, because I can already spot half a dozen subjects, especially this little farmhouse garden of which I sent you the drawing yesterday.
I think about Gauguin a lot, and I assure you that one way or another, whether it’s he who comes here, or I who go to him, he and I will both like more or less the same subjects. I’ve no doubts about being able to work at Pont-Aven, and on the other hand, am convinced that he’ll like this scenery here enormously. Ah well, at the end of a year, even giving you one canvas a month, which will make a dozen a year in all, he’ll still have made money, not having run up debts during this year, and having produced without interruption he’ll lose nothing. While the money that he’ll have received from us will be to a large extent recovered through the savings that become possible if we live at home at the studio, he and I, instead of living in cafés.
The fact remains that provided we lived in harmony and with an understanding not to quarrel, we’d gain a firmer position as far as reputation goes.
Each of us living alone, we live like madmen or criminals, in appearance at least, and to some extent in reality, too.
I’m happier to feel my old strength coming back than I would have thought I could be. I owe that largely to the people at the restaurant where I eat these days, who are extraordinary. I have to pay there, of course, but it’s something you don’t find in Paris, that they actually give you something to eat for your money.
And I’d very much like to see Gauguin there too, for a fair length of time.
What Gruby says — do without women and eat well — it’s true that does you good, and if you spend your brains and your marrow working with your mind, it’s very logical not to spend yourself making love any more than necessary.
But that’s easier to do in the country than in Paris.
Is the desire for women that one picks up in Paris not in part the effect of the malady of nervous exhaustion itself, of which Gruby is the sworn enemy, rather than a sign of vigour? So one sees this desire disappear at the very moment when one is recovering. The root of the problem being found in our very constitution, in the inevitable weakening of families from generation to generation, in our lousy profession as well, and the sad Paris life; the root of the problem indeed lies there, and we seem unable to cure ourselves of it.
I believe that the day when you’d no longer have to do idiotic accounting and ridiculously complicated administration at the Goupils, you’ll gain a great deal in terms of power with art lovers; it’s a thing cursed a thousand times, these complicated administrative tasks, and there isn’t, I imagine, a single brain, a single clerk’s temperament that doesn’t lose 50% in them. In that, our uncle5 was quite right when he said: much work with few staff, and not little work with many.
Unfortunately for him, he got caught up in the gear-wheels himself. Working among people, in order to sell, it’s a job that requires observation, a cool head.
But if one is forced to give too much attention to the books, one loses self-confidence.
That’s why Tersteeg was fortunate to have that greedy swine Iterson at his side, who carries this troublesome load of mechanical administration for him. I would really like to know just how you are. Anyway, as long as the Impressionists produce fine things, and find friends, there’s always a chance and possibility of a more independent position for you later on. A pity that it can’t exist right now.
Isn’t it true that in this business with Gauguin, with him spending 2.75 a day (at least, I think I recall that he mentioned that amount, he or Bernard), we know for a firm fact the price of a day at the hotel there, while here it still remains to be seen.
So at the price there we’re sure of being able to stay within the limits proposed. About health, now; mine is basically even good enough for the north, these days. Assumption, therefore, that he can’t find the money; let’s not hesitate.
In fact, we’re only tying ourselves up in this business for a year, let’s say.
Still no letter from Russell, but he’s bound to reply, having doubtless received the drawings.
This restaurant where I am is very odd, it’s grey all over, the floor is of grey bitumen, like a pavement, grey paper on the wall. Green blinds, always closed. A big green curtain in front of the ever-open door stops the dust coming in.
It’s altogether a Velázquez grey, as in women spinning.

Not even the very narrow and very violent shaft of sunlight through a blind, like the one that falls across V’s painting, is missing. Of course, small tables with white cloths. Now behind this Velázquez-grey room you can see the old kitchen, clean as a Dutch kitchen; very red brick floor, green vegetables, oak cupboard, cooking- stoves with gleaming copperware, with blue and white tiles and the big, bright orange fire.
Now there are two women who serve, also in grey, more or less like the painting by Prévost that you have at home, really comparable in every respect.
In the kitchen, an old woman and a short, fat, serving-woman, also in grey, black, white. I don’t know if I’m describing it clearly enough, but that’s what I’ve seen here of real Velázquez.
In front of the restaurant, a covered courtyard, paved with red bricks, and on the walls, vines growing wild, convolvulus and climbing plants. It’s still the real old Provence style, while the other restaurants are so much on Paris lines that even though there’s no concierge of any sort there’s still her lodge, and the notice, ‘speak to the concierge’. So not everything is brilliantly coloured all the time. For example, I saw a cowshed with 4 cows the colour of café au lait, and a calf the same colour, the cowshed a blue white, covered in cobwebs, the cows very clean and very beautiful, a big green curtain, against dust and flies, in the outside door.
Grey too, Velázquez grey.
There was a tranquillity about it — this café au lait and tobacco brown of the cows’ hides, with the soft white bluish grey of the walls, the green curtain and the yellow and sparkling green of the sunny exterior making a brilliant contrast. You see how there are other things still to do, quite different from what I’ve done.
I have to go to work. I saw another very tranquil and quite beautiful thing the other day, a young girl with a café au lait complexion — if I remember rightly — ash-blonde hair, grey eyes. Bodice of pale printed calico, under which you could see her high, firm little breasts. This against the emerald foliage of the fig trees. A real countrywoman, a great virginal look.
Not completely impossible that I might have her pose in the open air, and her mother as well — a gardener — colour of earth, who was thus dirty yellow and faded blue. The young girl’s café au lait complexion was darker than the pink of her bodice.
The mother was marvellous, her dirty yellow and faded blue figure stood out in the full sun against a brilliant square of snow-white and lemon-yellow flowers. A real Vermeer of Delft, then. It’s not ugly, the south.
Ever yours,