How Van Gogh’s Sunflowers have inspired generations of British artists
For Tate's Van Gogh and Britain exhibition, opening on 27 March, the National Gallery is lending its Sunflowers-which will be displayed in a fresh context, to show its impact on British art. Until now it has not been appreciated quite what an inspiration this single painting has been to generations of artists.
Thanks to the Art UK website, which records nearly all oil paintings in public collections, one can track the extent of the influence of the Sunflowers. A search for "sunflowers" on this comprehensive site brings up 80 pictures. Some artists, of course, painted them because they are dramatic and symbolic flowers. But it is probably fair to say that over half the pictures were partly inspired by the Dutch master.
At least one of the versions of Van Gogh's Sunflowers with a yellow background was shown in the UK in the 1910-11 Post Impressionist exhibition. Since 1924, when the finest version was acquired for the national collection, it has been on display in London, where it must have been seen by every leading British artist. Initially it was at the Tate and, since 1961, at the National Gallery.
The London Sunflowers (1888) has also long been known from countless reproductions-from 1911, as the frontispiece of Charles Lewis Hind's pioneering study of the Post-Impressionists, and, in colour, from 1928, in a book called Flower & Still Life Painting. For decades, the painting has been the National Gallery's best-selling postcard.
What is refreshing is that British artists have not simply copied the Van Gogh, but have taken his motif and interpreted it in their own very personal styles. Van Gogh and sunflowers have now become so closely linked that many art lovers find it difficult not to think of the painter when they see a bouquet of the flowers.
Frank Brangwyn was one of the earliest British admirers of Van Gogh. In his Sunflowers the yellow blooms appear to be clustered in the open air, set against a bold blue sky. The central flower almost seems to explode out of the picture. Brangwyn's contrasting complementary colours, so beloved by Van Gogh, are reminiscent of the Dutchman's painting of The Yellow House (1888, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam), which shows his home viewed under a sky of the deepest blue.
-The Art Newspaper