From today, there will be even more visitors’ feet on that much-used area of flooring, because the National Gallery’s Sunflowers is going to be reunited with another version of the same composition painted by Van Gogh a few months later, in what promises to be a remarkable exercise in artistic compare and contrast.
For, although the National Gallery’s picture is, in general estimation, the most important, daring and beautiful of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers it is by no means the only one. The artist, who lived from 1853 to 1890, tackled the theme on numerous occasions.
The flower that turns its bloom towards the sun has a long history as a symbol – of the Christian soul, among other things. In Britain, the sunflower motif was so popular with architects and designers of the Aesthetic movement that it was carved in stone and cast in metalwork that can still be seen across the city today. Before he became an artist, Van Gogh would have seen the emblem frequently during his early years in 1870s Britain, where he worked (unsuccessfully) as an art dealer, junior prep school master and lay preacher.