Sunflowers, 1888 by Vincent Van Gogh

Some of Vincent van Gogh's most famous works are his Sunflower series. He painted a total of twelve of these canvases, although the most commonly referred to are the seven he painted while in Arles in 1888 - 1889. The other five he had painted previously while in Paris in 1887.

There are many pieces within this series of paintings (each is clearly identifiable as a Van Gogh work) in which there are only minor differences that separate them. The overall layout of the painting along with positioning of the actual sunflowers usually remains the same in the similar paintings.

As Van Gogh anticipated in 1889, the Sunflowers finally became his, and served - combined with self-portraits - as his artistical arms and alter ego up to the present day: no retrospective Van Gogh exhibition since 1901 voluntarily missed to include them, and a wealth of forgeries as well as record-setting price paid at auction acknowledges their public success: Perhaps, because Van Gogh's Sunflowers are more than his or him - they may be considered, as Gauguin put it, the flower.

While Vincent himself never actually stated why he liked the sunflowers in particular, references to them are made in his many letters, which help give us some idea. In a letter to his sister dated 21 August 1888, he talks of his friend Gauguin coming to live with him in Arles. Then goes on to say that he intends to decorate the whole studio with nothing but sunflowers. He went on to write further, to his brother Theo, on the same day,

Now that I hope to live with Gauguin in a studio of our own, I want to make decorations for the studio. Nothing but big flowers. Next door to your shop, in the restaurant, you know there is a lovely decoration of flowers, I always remember the big sunflowers in the window there. ”