Top 12 Facts About Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh

The most famous Dutch Post-Impressionist artist created some of the most iconic paintings of flowers in history, and in this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh.

1. There are multiple Sunflowers paintings in 2 series

When we talk about Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh, we’re not talking about a single painting. It actually refers to 2 series with a total of 11 paintings that solely depict sunflowers and which are some of his best-recognized paintings.

The first series was created in Paris while Vincent was living with his brother Theo. The second series was painted in Arles in the south of France while he was preparing the so-called “Yellow House,” which he also painted and turned into a studio.

Sunflowers by Vincent van gogh paintings
Vincent van Gogh self-portrait. / Wiki Commons

2. Nobody knows when he painted the sunflowers in Paris

Between 1886 and 1888, Vincent lived in Paris, more specifically the artistic Montmartre neighborhood. This was a period of which little is known about the artist. He drank and smoked heavily but still managed to paint quite a bit, including portraits, scenes of the area, and still lifes.

It’s unclear though when exactly he created the first series of Sunflowers. The first reference of the paintings was made at least 2 years later during the spring of 1888 when Paul Gauguin claimed 2 copies in exchange for studies he had left van Gogh earlier.

This didn’t go over too well with Vincent, something he wrote about in one of his letters to Theo.

Sunflowers in Paris / Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo
Sunflowers in Paris / Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo / Wiki Commons

3. The Paris sunflowers weren’t the first time he included sunflowers

The Sunflowers series is now referred to as van Gogh’s paintings with “nothing but sunflowers.” The reason for this is that he already included sunflowers in multiple of his other paintings, including still life and landscapes.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable examples of this was the painting he created in 1886 called “Roses and Sunflowers.” This painting, which is now located at the Kunsthalle in Manheim, is remarkable because it’s during his early days in Paris, a period he met a lot of artists who were opposing the Impressionist artists of the time.

This eventually resulted in Vincent exploring the effects of colors, something that would define his style and lead to the creation of the Sunflowers series.

Roses and Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh
Roses and Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh / Wiki Commons

4. The Arles sunflowers were supposed to decorate the Yellow House

One of the most remarkable facts about Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh is that he created this series to impress one of his colleagues whom he had invited over and with who he hoped to work together.

Paul Gauguin eventually visited van Gogh and he stayed at the Yellow House in Arles. Vincent created a studio on the first floor of the house which he decorated with this Sunflowers series.

Unfortunately, this visit eventually culminated in Vincent suffering from a mental breakdown and him cutting off part of his left ear after a discussion with Gauguin on the night before Christmas of 1888.

Interesting facts about The Yellow House by Vincent Van Gogh
The Yellow House in Arles which were decorated with the Sunflowers / Wiki Commons

5. Two of the Arles paintings have been slightly modified

The Arles Sunflowers series consists of 4 main paintings and 3 repetitions. The second and third are both repetitions of the 4th version and have been slightly modified by both Vincent and its initial owner.

The second repetition features a strip of wood on top of the painting which was probably added by Vincent himself. This painting can no be found at the “Van Gogh Museum” in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

The third repetition was enlarged on all sides with strips of canvas, most probably by its first owner, French Post-Impressionist artist, and art collector Émile Schuffenecker. The painting is now on public display at the Sompo Japan Museum of Art in Tokyo, Japan.

The Sunflowers painting with a strip of wood on top
The painting with a strip of wood on top / Wiki Commons

6. The second version of the Arles series was destroyed in WWII

While the Arles Sunflowers series originally consisted of 4 different paintings, this has been reduced to only 3 paintings right now.

The second version was originally part of a private collection in Ashiya, Japan, but was unfortunately destroyed during World War II. This happened on August 6, 1945, during an air raid conducted by the United States Air Force.

The destroyed sunflowers painting
The destroyed sunflowers painting / Wiki Commons

7. Sunflowers were one of van Gogh’s favorite subjects

One of the most interesting facts about Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh is that it was one of his most favorite subjects to paint. He mentioned this in one of his letters to his brother Theo when he told him that:

I’m painting with the gusto of a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse, which won’t surprise you when it’s a question of painting large sunflowers.

Vincent van Gogh commenting on painting Sunflowers.

This letter was written in Late August of 1888 and at the time he already completed 3 of the 4 main works. He also mentioned that he was about to do more, which was true as he created one more of the main series and 3 repetitions of his initial works.

8. Van Gogh envisioned the two major works to be part of a triptych

Vincent envisioned two of his paintings forming a triptych with another painting he already had completed called “La Berceuse.” We know this because he mentioned in one of his letters that “I picture to myself these same canvases between those of the sunflowers, which would thus form torches or candelabra beside them, the same size, and so the whole would be composed of seven or nine canvases.”

In this letter, he also included a sketch of this triptych which clearly depicts two of his most favorite Sunflowers.

Sketch of the Sunflowers triptych
Sketch of the Sunflowers triptych / Wiki Commons

9. Gauguin made a portrait of Vincent while he was painting Sunflowers

While Paul Gauguin visited Vincent van Gogh in Arles in late 1888, he also created a painting of Vincent depicting him while he was painting the Sunflowers series. This painting, created in December 1888, is fittingly called “The Painter of Sunflowers.”

It’s fair to conclude that he didn’t like it at all and believed that Gauguin had depicted him as a madman. This was his initial reaction, though, because later on, he would mention that “My face has lit up, after all, a lot since, but it was indeed me, extremely tired and charged with electricity as I was then.”

Portrait of van Gogh made by Paul Gauguin Sunflowers
Portrait of van Gogh made by Paul Gauguin / Wiki Commons

10. One of the painting’s authenticity was once contested

In the 2000s, some art historians started a debate questioning the authenticity of one of the Arles Sunflowers. More specifically the 3rd repetition is a copy of the 4th initial version which is now located in Japan.

It was assumed that it might have been a forgery made by either Émile Schuffenecker or Paul Gauguin. Scientific research conducted on the painting has confirmed, however, that the painting is indeed authentic.

The contested painting / Wiki Commons

11. One of the Sunflower paintings became a record-breaker in 1987

One of the most intriguing facts about Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh is that this contested painting, which is referred to as “Still Life: Vase With Fifteen Sunflowers,” ended up being sold at a record price at the time!

On March 30, 1987, a total sum of USD $39,921,750 was paid by a rich Japanese insurance company owner called Yasuo Goto. The man eventually donated this painting to the museum in Tokyo where it’s still housed today.

Shortly after, van Gogh’s “Irises” was sold to Alan Bond for USD $53.9 million at Sotheby’s, New York, on November 11, 1987, smashing the recently set record by nearly USD $14 million!

Van Gogh irises
Van Gogh’s Irises / Wiki Commons

12. Two of the Sunflower paintings have never been sold

All of the Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh have been sold, except for two of them. These include the first study he made of the Paris Sunflowers and the repetition he made of the 4th version of the Arles series.

Both of these paintings are now owned by the “Vincent van Gogh Foundation” which was established in 1962 by his nephew Vincent Willem van Gogh. They are on permanent loan to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

So which are the most famous of all of the paintings in the Sunflowers series?

Most definitely the two he included in the Berceuse-Triptych! These are also two of the six works he chose to be exhibited at the “Les XX in Bruxelles” in 1889, an invitation-only exhibit that proves he was finally starting to get the recognition he deserved at the end of life!

facts about Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh
The famous version at the National Gallery in London / Wiki Commons