Further investigation of the painter's famous painting reveals the courage of his search for all possible shades of yellow, but also his delicate state of preservation
Vincent Van Gogh was convinced that Sunflowers, one of his most famous canvases, of which he executed five versions between 1888 and 1889, would be his hallmark. "The sunflower is mine," he wrote to his brother in 1889, when he had already experimented with the flower for three years. What he could not foresee is that his paintings would also change the perception of Dutch floral painting. Especially that of the Golden Age, with its crystal vases overflowing with varieties that attract attention for their color, perfection and stillness. The seventeenth-century still lifes were of exceptional quality, but the artist's humble sunflowers have movement. Given the subsequent popular success, his enemy is time: pigments lose their nuances and the most exhaustive investigation on the painter's working methods and the state of the work, presented this Thursday at the museum dedicated to the artist in Amsterdam, will contribute to keep it, because it will not be lent again given its fragility.
The version of The Sunflowers exhibited in the museum room is one of five in his time in French Provence, when he had moved to the city of Arles Paris. The scientific and historical study of the painting, now published, began in 2016, and the great advantage is that it has not been invasive. With digital techniques to observe the fabric in depth, laboratory tests on color aging and a respectful restoration that has only removed a layer of wax that had a milky appearance “it has been seen that the yellow on yellow used is the result of very complex and elaborate pigments, some of which have lost strength. " “The lilac touches of the flowers and their signature on the vase have turned blue with the passage of time and exposure to light. Everything grows old. This painting too ”, warns Nienke Bakker, curator of the Van Gogh and sunflowers exhibition, organized in the Dutch center. The work dominates the montage, but the rest of the 23 paintings, watercolors and drawings that accompany it trace the route to the final explosion of a single color.
Hanging in the middle of the room, a kind of window has been opened to show the back of the painting. Van Gogh arrived in Arles exhausted the intense Parisian life, floral still lifes were highly prized and set out to paint them with the intention of selling them. “At that time, sunflowers were not found in large planted fields, but in gardens, flower beds and even flowerpots in neighborhoods like Montmartre. In Arles he already had floral experience and experimented with golden yellow, copper, greenish or reddish yellow. It was a display of expertise, courage and mastery of the trade, which earned him the admiration of other artists and his French colleague Paul Gauguin, with whom he exchanged paintings, "added the expert. And that challenge, which Van Gogh himself intuits that he can make famous as he indicates to his brother Theo, leads him not to notice the size of the canvas. “When he realizes that the sunflowers don't fit him, he cuts a wooden ribbon, sticks it on top, and paints on top. The canvas doesn't reach him and the yellow brushstroke is on top of the wood, that's why we show the work behind ”. It is Van Gogh in a pure feverish state, and a gesture that has given the restorers many headaches, who have put, removed and replaced the piece. Today, the conclusion of all the experts gathered around Los Girasoles is emphatic: “You can't leave the museum anymore. It is too fragile and keeping it comes at a price. ”
FRIENDS DESPITE EVERYTHING
One of the most deeply rooted legends about Vincent van Gogh is his lack of friends, due to his absolute dedication to work. "It is not true. He got along well with his fellow painters and in Paris they frequented the same circles. It's just that his character must not have been easy, ”says Nienke Bakker, curator of the exhibition dedicated to Sunflowers, his emblematic work, in the Amsterdam museum. Yes, it is true that Van Gogh invited Paul Gauguin to spend a season together in 1888, in a yellow-fronted house he had rented in Arles, and he hung two versions of the canvas in his bedroom. Admired, Gauguin asked for one as a gift, but without success. They did not understand each other and, in a rush, Van Gogh cut his ear. Despite the bloody incident and their subsequent separation, they maintained their friendship and The sunflowers kept in Holland were a gift for Gauguin that he never finally got to do.