1887 by Vincent van Gogh
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
These Sunflowers pre-date van Gogh’s infamous painting in the National Gallery, where the canvas blazes with orange throughout. These earlier sunflowers are subtler in palette and more detailed in design, concentrating on the form of the dying head, fascinated by the different components that make up one object. Each part of the flower has been tended to visually, paying attention to its natural movement; swirls of seeds cascade into a natural centre, pulled by the darker hue, as their tones range from the warmth of dark maroon-red to the teals of mustard tinged blue. The dry curling of small petals erupt in a pattern of waves, the bulk of their bodies painterly ovals drawn out by a tip that pulls them this way and that. This painterly articulation of natural movement, the spirals of seeds, the fluttering of petals, allows the sunflower a visuality that draws it for its energy. Van Gogh’s painting often achieves this expressive nature — brush patterns that articulate in movement, painterly daubs that capture a way of seeing — but used on such a detailed scale, this technique takes on a higher more concentrated intensity. The sunflower heads, both back and front, teem with the agitation of both the flower itself and the brush strokes that curl to paint them. Even the surface, in deep juxtaposing turquoise cannot keep still; seeped with texture and movement, it is dappled in swirls that curl in light and shadow around the yellowing heads.