Sunflowers @ National Gallery


The last time I saw people queueing at the National Gallery was for the Da Vinci exhibition. I tried multiple times to visit the Sunflowers exhibition without having to wait in line but was unsuccessful and eventually took my place at the end of the line like everyone else, but I am glad that I did.

The National Gallery has always had one of Van Gogh’s paintings of sunflowers on its gallery walls. It is the gallery’s most popular painting and for a short time this will be reunited side by side with another painting from the series on loan from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

The London piece was painted in 1888 while the copy from Amsterdam was painted in 1889. I could fill this post about the social events that took place between the time in which the two paintings were constructed, I am going to simply write about the visual similarities and differences instead.

The composition of the two images are the same. Both have an equal number of flowers, the same shaped pot, a table at the same height, and a bare neutral background. The flowers are even arranged in the same way and the plants seem to be the same shape. Where the paintings differ most is in colour. The London painting seems more restrained than the Amsterdam image. The painting lent from Holland is brighter. It is more yellow where the London painting seems to be beige. The shades of green in the two paintings alter too. The flowers in the London painting have dark green stems, that we would normally associate with plants, with patches of dark green in the centre of the flowers. Conversely, the greens in the Amsterdam picture are lighter and are at times almost acidic where they are surrounded by the petals of flowers.

If I had to choose a favourite painting it would be the Amsterdam image. It seems more exciting to me with a more vibrant sense of colour, however, that may well be because I was already used to the version that has always sat happily in the National Gallery.

Don’t let the queues deter you. Van Gogh’s Sunflowers are an image recognised by all, young and old, and should be visited by everyone who has the opportunity.

The Sunflowers are on Display at National Gallery until 27 April

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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