June 20, 2016

Sunflowers symbolize the essence of summer.

Their brilliant yellow is the strongest color, psychologically.  It lifts our spirits, signifies confidence and optimism.   Yellow elicits friendliness and creativity.



No wonder sunflowers have proven irresistible to artists, myself included.  They’re fun to sketch, their petals resplendently fluid, their centers textural & inviting.


At one point, over a century ago,  sunflowers became the darlings of the artistic set, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. 

None perhaps has ever painted them more than Vincent Van Gogh.  He was truly crazed for them.

Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers (1888)



He painted many dozens of paintings of them, relished their details, their shapes and colors. (Perhaps if he’d painted them all of life he could have avoided his depressions?!)

Still Life with Two Sunflowers (1887)


He explored them top to bottom.


Van Gogh painted vases of sunflowers to decorate the guest room for his buddy Paul Gauguin.

Gauguin was amused by Van Gogh’s obvious preoccupation.  Gauguin reciprocated by creating many  sunflower paintings himself, in a friendly tongue-in-cheek rivalry. 

Sunflowers and Mangoes (1901)



including a portrait of Van Gogh painting—what else?-- sunflowers.

Vincent Van Gogh Painting Sunflowers (1888)



Across France, Monet got into the act, in a more subdued typically Monet sort of way, but  nonetheless he painted the sunflowers literally to overshadow the de rigueur pretty little girl.

The Artist's Garden at Vetheuil (1880)



Even the usually sedate Gustav Klimt incorporated sunflowers in one of his masterly compilations of design.  He only painted them once, (just to let everyone know he could have done more had he wanted to…?)

Farm Garden with Sunflowers (1905)



Perhaps mocking the Europeans for their late-to-the-party fascination with sunflowers, which were indigenous to North American and only introduced to Europe by the Spanish in the 1500’s,  the fabulous Mexican Diego Rivera painted a brown-skinned girl with the flowers, reportedly as a parody of Van Gogh’s obsession with them (& the European penchant for white faces alongside the flowers.)

 Muchacha con Girosoles.



Rivera too was ultimately captivated by the opportunity to present the brilliance of yellows. He incorporated them into many more paintings, each with more dramatic contrast that the preceding ones.

Girasoles (1943)


You may be surprised to learn that sunflowers are nowadays cultivated primarily for their nutritious oils and seeds, that their flowers are secondary for the commercial growers around the world.  


Thus, they’re inexpensive to buy.  Their blooms are durable, far longer lasting than a rose or pansy.


So why not buy an armful, jam them into a tall (brilliant blue) vase, pour a cool tall drink, squint your eyes and view them as did Van Gogh & celebrate summer!

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