But did you know that Vincent painted these famous flowers many, many times?
All together, Vincent painted a dozen or so versions of his famous Sunflowers during two significant periods of his life.
The first (of at least four) paintings were done in Paris, when he lived there with his brother, Theo.
These sunflowers, however, were only a prelude to the masterpieces Vincent made in Arles.
As I mentioned, the Paris sunflowers were made during the time that Vincent lived there with his brother.
|The yellow house in Arles; Vincent had rented the "right hand" wing of four rooms|
Despite the failure of the cafe show, as well as the distaste with which he was treated by the other artists, it was Vincent's hope and dream that many painters would follow him to Arles, and would help him to establish an artist's colony there.
After carefully working out the argument in his mind, Vincent presented his case to Theo: Galleries were in the business of selling paintings and other works of art, which could be created only by artists who had the necessary creative setting required to make commercial, sellable work. In order to create the work that the galleries sold, artists should not have to be worried about such mundane, every day tasks like putting a roof over their heads and meals on the table.
Housing, feeding, and providing raw materials for many individual artists in many individual settings was a costly and inefficient way to produce the end product which the galleries could sell; therefore, Vincent argued, an efficiency could be created by housing, feeding and supplying artists together in a communal setting.
In addition to the (obvious to Vincent) economic efficiencies this system would create, the artists would be available to each other to fuel individual creative fires, as well as engage in synergistic "schools" which would develop new and ever evolving ways of creating. Vincent termed this place, this dream, this fantasy, the "Studio of the South."
It was Vincent's hope that, with Theo's continued (and expanding) financial assistance, such a colony could be founded in Arles. Theo would be responsible for providing housing, food, and materials, and, in exchange, each of the artists in the colony would send Theo (and Goupil) one painting per week, which could be sold, thus funding the enterprise.
Which was a great theory; but in practical terms, none of Vincent's paintings had ever been sold.
Vincent felt that this colony would provide a safety net for himself and all of the artists who joined. He realized how fickle the art buying public was; therefore, those individual artists who were in favor would support those who were not, until the taste and fashion of the buyers changed again. The communal living arrangement would allow the artist to support one another as a family supports one another, with each member contributing what they could, when they could. ( I think that Vlad, below, would agree.)
|(Not the Art Demigod; it's Vladimir Lenin)|
Although he had no express approval from Theo, Vincent identified the first target of his recruitment campaign. He beseeched the 19 year old painter Emile Bernard (15 years his junior), to join him in the yellow house. Bernard was a talented self promotor and a bit of a maverick, who had been suspended from the Ecole des Beaux-arts for "showing expressive tendencies in his paintings."
|Bernard by Toulouse-Lautrec (1886)|
Vincent favored the young artist for the colony because he had misinterpreted the younger man's completely commercial attention to him for friendship.
Vincent wrote many times to Bernard, begging for his participation, but Emile always demurred, choosing instead to spend his time painting in Brittany.
Later, it was Emille Bernard who wrote the most sensational (and greatly exaggerated) account of Vincent's self mutilation, and who first reported the death of Van Gogh to be a suicide. Bernard had not been present for either event, but he proved himself a man who understood the value of proximity to publicity.
When he realized that Bernard would not help with the colony, Vincent wrote to a distant runner up in the beauty pageant, Paul Gauguin. (There will be more about Gauguin, his adventurous life, his very stormy relationship with Van Gogh, and his contribution to modern art, in a later posting.)
|Self-portrait of Gauguin, 1889-1890|
Vincent had thought about these paintings for a long time before he put flowers in a vase or his brush into a blob of paint. He had worked out all of the color schemes in his mind's eye, and carried these individual and really very different paintings in his brain for some time. He was nuts, but he was also a genius.
I taped the drawing paper down on my canvas so that I could predict the size of my final sketch on the canvas board, which measures 20" X 24".
My composition differed from Vincent's in that my vase is much more forward in the painting than his was.
You can see below where I added in more details on the flowers. The actual sunflowers were very challenging to draw; they grow in curly leafed layers from the back to the flowerhead.
I was glad to have done it "Vincent's way" as I studied his originals more and realized how much he used the background and table colors to make the sunflowers and vase colorations vibrate and hum.
Once again, Vincent sure knew what he was doing. There is so much I am learning from him, and I hope you are, too!
At left and below are some shots of the sunflowers from various angles. I had purchase a lot of flowers and felt like I had to use every one in my composition.
I did remember the neat trick of cutting the stems while they are immersed in a sink full of water; that did seem to help most of the flowers, but sadly (see above), not all.
Some of the colors are opaque, and some are transparent. See how the yellow green on the upper right looks like a solid mass (opaque), and the blue on the upper left (translucent) and can be spread very thinly?
Initially, I had left a lot of the leaves attached to the flowers as I arranged them into the vase. I figured it was easier to keep a leaf on than to put it back after I had cut it off, and I wanted to see how they would look.
The leaves made the composition very busy and confusing, so I started snipping them one by one. I left only a few leaves in the final arrangement, which you can see at the lower right corner of the flowers.
Here is a close up of the vase; a series of green stripes accented by transparent blues.
And here is a close up of one of the flowers and leaves. I wanted an acidy yellow green in the center, but made the mistake of drawing too heavily in charcoal (without blowing it away) before I painted. My acidy green came out looking kind of acidy grey.
More leaves, more charcoal regrets, and I am finally ready to let the sun shine in!
I used a nice little filbert for this part. What makes it so awesome is the rounded knife edge right along the tip. That edge allows for pretty precise painting, which I will need to do the sharp edges and points of the flower petals.
Even though it is looking a little muddy to me, I like the yellow with the green and blue.
But the way that the flowers overlap each other and weave in and out of the bunch is quite confusing to paint!
I keep having to stop painting and isolate which flower I am trying to work on so that I know if the leaves and petals on any particular flower are above or below the leaves and petals on it's neighbor.
The charcoal is what is making things so muddy.
Lesson learned, Vincent.
Now every petal is painted, it is time to begin on the centers!
I have got to do something to brighten up the grayish acid green... now what is opposite green on my color wheel?
It is yellow or red violet, depending upon the color of the green.
As the flowers are already quite yellow, I think I am going to go purple.
The picture below is as far as I got before I set this painting aside. I put it where I could see it, and let it "cook" for more than a month. I didn't hate it, but I certainly didn't love it, either.
And a close up of the centers....
And the vase...
I picked up swirls of one, two, and three colors at a time, then blended them together on the background.
I think that the blues are a good foil for the yellows.
|A close up where you can see the swirly, streaky painting.|
I kept that on my easel for a few more days, and this afternoon added in some more background (to replace confusing leaf placement), some stems, and a few more highlights in the centers of the flowers. Below is the finished painting.
See you next time, and thanks for reading!