Sunflowers | Vincent van Gogh | 1888 – Part 3
Comes from Part 2
In Paris, Vincent started to relate to the new pigments that were produced in Europe in the late 19th Century. Especially, with the color chrome yellow, which was obtained from a quarry in Siberia, Russia. The quality of these new pigments was amazing: the colors which resulted from them were vibrant, pure, homogeneous and with a brightness much more superior than the old ones. Vincent’s sunflowers were only possible by chrome yellow.
After spent a year in Paris, Vincent decides to move to southern France, to a rural town called Arles. He made this decision because Paris was always cloudy and Arles, on the coast of the Mediterranean, always had sunny days. Vincent himself will tell that he moved south to search for sunlight which will vivify his palette.
Vincent gets there, under the suspicious gaze of the locals. Imagine that, if there was one place outside the art circle of that time, it would be Arles. The driven artist, shocked by the color of the façade of a house, decides to rent it. As you would imagine, the facade was yellow and, from there, that house will be known as the “yellow house”. The locals, during the first weeks, didn’t take long to nickname the artist as the “crazy red” in reference of the color of his hair.
Settled and alone in the yellow house, Vincent’s illness becomes acute. In his delirium, he starts to think in forming a community of artists who would live like monks, and would devote themselves exclusively to art. This community would have a master and his 12 disciples. His admiration for the artists Paul Gauguin makes Vincent to think of him to become the master and he invites him to spend a season in Arles. Gauguin, in that time, was broke; so he accepted the invitation as a way to have a cheap place to stay for some time. He was not interested in the project of the community at all. A few months back, in the French capital, Gauguin had praised Vincent’s Parisian sunflowers, so our artist, in front of the expectation of the master’s arrival, anxiously returns to the subject again, with the objective of decorating the different walls of the rooms in the yellow house. There he paints Sunflowers, the work of our analysis.
Gauguin arrives to town a few months later. The artists devote themselves to painting and discussed on art during the whole day. In no time, both realized that their personalities and thoughts on art were radically different. Discussions, then, became arguments and, suddenly, it started to rain. It seems that Arles has an extreme weather. Then it is sunny, the light blinds you; and, when it rains, it does it for days without interruption. So, Vincent and Gauguin found themselves locked in a house fighting all day long. The harmonious project of the community of artists faded as quickly as it was born: Vincent and Gauguin didn’t agree with anything that had to do with art. The arguments went stronger and stronger and, after one of them, Vincent broke out and cut the lobe of one of his ears.
Until here, I wanted to picture the context in which Vincent painted the Sunflowers. In the next post, we’ll take a lot at the symbolism and significations of the painting.