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Paintings as infographics: Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh

29 June, 2015

Paintings as Infographics: Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh

Click on the image to enlarge it

[Updated and enriched on 28 July 2015]

On 29 July 2015 it is 125 years since the death of painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). His life and art is being celebrated on this occasion by many museums and organisations in Europe and we present an infographic about Sunflowers, one of his most popular paintings.

In August 1888, two years before his death, Van Gogh painted a series of paintings of sunflowers in Arles, France, including the one that hangs in the National Gallery, London (Room 45).

It’s a still life with a vase (in fact a pot) that holds about 15 sunflowers.

At the top of the infographic there is a geometric-style interpretation of the painting followed by a more ‘infographic’ approach: “The Image Decomposed” shows the simple means Van Gogh used for his painting and, specially in the case of the wall and the table, his subtle, abstract approach.

A map with important locations related to the painting includes Arles, France (the town where Van Gogh painted the Sunflowers series, London, UK (the location of the National Gallery which acquired the original painting in 1924), Amsterdam, Netherlands (where a signed copy of the painting hangs in Van Gogh Museum) and Tokyo, Japan where the unsigned copy of the painting is situated.

Finally the original (August 1888) Sunflowers of the National Gallery, London is compared to the copy signed by Vincent  (January 1889) in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam and his unsigned copy (in the Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art, Tokyo):

  • the Amsterdam version is about 3cm taller than the London one (Van Gogh added a strip of wood to a canvas of the same dimensions as the London version). The Tokyo version is even taller (about 8cm taller than the London one) and wider by 3.5cm than the other two
  • on the London painting the signature of Van Gogh is on the the upper/glazed part of the vase; just above the line separating the glazed from the unglazed part; in French ultramarine
  • on the Amsterdam one his signature is on the lower/unglazed part of the vase; just below the line separating the glazed from the unglazed part; in a mix of Prussian blue and white
  • the Tokyo version is unsigned
  • comparing the London and the Amsterdam paintings side by side it can be noted that the angle of the line separating the table from the wall on the Amsterdam version is slightly steeper than on the London painting; furthermore it is in red while the London one is in blue; on the Tokyo one it is green

There are several occasions that the London and the Amsterdam have been displayed side by side, most recently at the National Gallery, London (25 January – 27 April 2014).

Although Van Gogh was commercially unsuccessful and managed to sell only one painting during his lifetime, the value of each of the Sunflowers paintings (in London,  Amsterdam and Tokyo) is estimated nowadays at £100m (one hundred million pounds)!

Many thanks to Maria Tsirodimitri for her creative input during the design process of the infographic.

The National Gallery, London Vincent van Gogh | Sunflowers | NG3863
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam Sunflowers
Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art, Tokyo Van Gogh (Sunflowers)
Bailey, M. (2013) The sunflowers are mine: The Story of Van Gogh’s Masterpiece. London: Frances Lincoln.
Gayford, M. (2007) The yellow house: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles. London: Viking.
BBC Archive Van Gogh – Canvas | 7: Sunflowers

If you found this post interesting, why not have a look at our other art-related posts:
Infographic: The anatomy of an auction
The Courtauld Gallery, London, Room 3: infographics
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