In 1888/89 in Arles, France, one of the most famous figures in art history, Vincent van Gogh, produced one the most famous series of paintings ever made – Sunflowers.
Located in world-leading galleries across the globe, the five paintings have never been united – until now. Today, for the first time, five of Van Gogh’s ‘Arles’ Sunflower paintings will feature in a virtual exhibition, bringing the collection together in a way the artist could never have imagined.
Using photography of the original artworks, The National Gallery (London), Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam), Philadelphia Museum of Art, Neue Pinakothek (Munich) and the Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art (Tokyo) worked with Facebook to create a fully immersive digital exhibition.
Van Gogh fans will not only be able to view the collection in one place, through a 360 video on Facebook or a Samsung Gear VR, powered by Oculus experience, but they will also be able learn more about Sunflowers in a unique series of Facebook Lives.
Using a combination of VR technology and CGI to create an experience that will look and feel as if the five paintings are actually together in one room, fans can interact with Sunflowers 360 on Gear VR or view as a 360 video on Facebook
Willem van Gogh, the great-grandson of Van Gogh’s brother Theo and advisor to the Van Gogh Museum board, narrates the experience, sharing personal memories of the paintings.
Talking about this initiative, Willem van Gogh, said: “Rather like the Mona Lisa and The Night Watch, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers are: works of art that continue to intrigue and inspire, perhaps until eternity. Indeed, each generation forges a fresh, highly personal bond with them. And the virtual gallery and live stream now provide a novel way for art lovers young and old to admire these magnificent masterpieces, from all corners of the globe. I think this is fantastic!”
Sunflowers 360 will be released today on the Facebook pages of each museum, and available on Gear VR on August 14, 2017.
Facebook Live from five locations
On Monday, August 14, you can learn from the museum’s experts, when each Sunflower painting will be discussed via Facebook Live. Each of the five galleries will link up in a unique collaboration to explore the Sunflowers series through a consecutive relay of five, 15-minute Facebook Live broadcasts. The series of Facebook Lives will kick off with National Gallery in London at 17:50 BST.
Each will take place in front of a different Sunflowers painting, celebrating and exploring Vincent van Gogh’s life and work.
Christopher Riopelle, Curator of Post 1800 Paintings, who will host the first live from London, said: “The excitement we saw three years ago when the London and Amsterdam ‘Sunflowers’ were shown together, especially among young visitors to the National Gallery, convinced us that there is a deep curiosity on the part of the public and scholars alike to understand how this famous series came into being, what the pictures meant to Vincent, and what they mean to us today.”
Glenn Miller, Strategic Partner Manager for Facebook, said: “This iconic series of paintings have been experienced as individual pieces of art around the world. By creating this immersive experience we can now bring these masterpieces together, inspiring and bringing enjoyment to new and existing fans, no matter where they are in the world.”
Van Gogh Sunflowers Facebook Live running order (August 14, 2017)
- National Gallery, London – 5.50 – 6.05pm, UK time – https://www.facebook.com/thenationalgallery/
- Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam – 6.10-6.25pm, UK time – https://www.facebook.com/VanGoghMuseum/
- Neue Pinakothek, Munich – 6.30–6.45pm, UK time – https://www.facebook.com/pinakotheken/
- Philadelphia Museum of Art – 6.50-7.05pm, UK time – https://www.facebook.com/philamuseum/
- Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art, Tokyo – 7.10pm, UK time will be released on https://www.facebook.com/VanGoghMuseum/
About the Van Gogh Sunflowers series
The Sunflowers series dates from 1888, when Van Gogh left Paris to paint in the brilliant sunshine of the South of France. He rented a house in Arles – ‘The Yellow House’ – and invited Paul Gauguin to come and join him so the two artists could paint together. Waiting for Gauguin to arrive, Van Gogh painted a series of pictures of sunflowers to decorate his friend’s bedroom. They were meant as a sign of friendship and welcome, but also of Van Gogh’s allegiance to Gauguin as his artistic leader.
Vincent wrote to his brother Theo in August 1888: “I am hard at it, painting with the enthusiasm of a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse, which won’t surprise you when you know that what I’m at is the painting of some sunflowers. If I carry out this idea there will be a dozen panels. So the whole thing will be a symphony in blue and yellow. I am working at it every morning from sunrise on, for the flowers fade so quickly. I am now on the fourth picture of sunflowers. This fourth one is a bunch of 14 flowers…it gives a singular effect.”
Van Gogh had been deeply influenced by Japanese art – the simplicity of the design and the bright, flat colours with bold contour lines were things that he sought in his own work. Colour itself came to have special symbolic meanings – yellow, in particular, referred to warmth and friendship. The dying flowers are built up with thick brushstrokes (impasto), which evokes the texture of the seed-heads. Where there are petals, they are often painted with a single, soft, yellow brushstroke.
Van Gogh and Gauguin worked together throughout autumn 1888 – but it ended very badly at the close of the year when Vincent seemed to have a nervous breakdown, famously cut off part of his ear and entered an asylum. Early the following year, following this nervous collapse, he returned to the subject of Sunflowers once again.