This weekend Toby and I visited our friends in London because we’re moving there in three months and it’s all rather exciting. We decided to visit the National Gallery for no other reason than it was free, we are poor and Toby hadn’t been before. We both like our arty tarty and do a bit ourselves, so after clambering around on the lions by Nelson’s Column for a while (I couldn’t get down), we stepped inside.
To our great delight, we stumbled upon the latest exhibition on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers paintings. Aside from the usual version belonging to the National, they have borrowed the one from Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum and placed them alongside each other. What a lovely opportunity! It’s common knowledge that artists have often created multiple versions of the same painting, but to be able to compare them and identify the differences was really fascinating.
The painting above is the National Gallery’s own, acquired in 1924 with assistance from the Courtauld Fund. The painting below belongs to Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, which I visited in 2011 when I went interrailing! I’m definitely no stranger to squiggly sunflowers. The National’s version was painted a few months before Amsterdam’s, but Toby thought it was interesting that the earlier painting actually appears to be an older, wilted version of the later one, almost as if the flowers had been left to wither for five months.
The colours are undoubtedly brighter and bolder in Amsterdam’s, and the deep red pigment seen in the heart of one of the flower heads below is unique to this version alone. The shades of Viridian green, Emerald green and French ultramarine were all new additions to artists’ palettes in the nineteenth century. Van Gogh had his tubes of oils sent to him in Provence from his brother in Paris.
If you can get to the National Gallery before the end of April, it is well worth a trip. The exhibition is running until 27th April and if you’re still not convinced, you can literally buy anything sunflower-themed in the gift shop. Visit the website here!