From Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo:
This is an unusual flower still life. Here, Van Gogh does not paint fresh flowers in a vase or pot, no arranged bouquet of different flowers, no entourage and no background; just a few cut sunflowers gone to seed. The flowers are painted life-sized and fill the entire canvas.
In Paris, Van Gogh frequently paints flower still lifes to practice his use of colour. In 1886, he writes to a friend: ‘I have made a series of colour studies in painting simply flowers (…) seeking oppositions of blue with orange, red and green, yellow and violet, seeking the broken and neutral tones to harmonise brutal extremes. Trying to render intense colour and not a grey harmony’.
In this painting, he finds what he sought: warm and cold colours in contrasting tones. The combination of these with the swirling brushstrokes in all directions, but also the strange, undefinable space in which the sunflowers are placed, make this painting one of the highpoints of his Parisian period.
To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, on or about Friday, 28 March 1884.
My dear Theo,
The drawings for this month are still with Rappard, otherwise I would have already sent them to you. And since there’s a plan for Rappard to come and stay here very soon, I’ve asked him to bring them with him then.
I’m pleased that you wrote about Cor in that way, as I learned from your letter to Pa and Ma. Fortunate that Braat is getting better again — you’ll no doubt have seen — won’t you? — that you’d been fundamentally mistaken in what you felt you had to write to me about him. I hope you’ve realized this.
I return briefly to what I wrote to you about Rappard. I don’t find it necessary to talk to him much about you as long as you and I aren’t on better terms than we are at present. However, just think again for a moment whether or not you’d be being unkind to him if you were to take no notice of him if he’s going to be here again soon.
I don’t think you’d regret taking the hint I give you about this. What I’d like is simply for you to renew your acquaintance with him. There’s all the more reason for it, particularly because he’s further on than I am. I say this simply to prevent you from being negligent.
I don’t know what impression it would make on Rappard if I told him how things had been between us recently.
But I know very well that he liked the work of mine that he’s seen these last few months. I would rather that I could tell him all was well between you and me.
But I won’t harp on about this either. If you want to divide art with sharp, dead straight lines into things that one may bring into the open and things that one must persistently leave alone — that’s your business.
And at this moment the whole question is so downright odious to me that I don’t want to pursue it any more.
As far as Rappard is concerned, it’s curious what absurd things he sometimes hears about his work — which he takes very coolly. One has to be prepared for this and have a certain self-confidence in order not to allow oneself to be overwhelmed or upset. Friends who make up for the unpleasantness about the work with warm-heartedness are of great value to a painter. Were you to feel personal sympathy for R.’s work, he’d certainly not be indifferent to you either. Yet he — and I too — increasingly cherish fewer and fewer illusions about encountering sympathy, and set ourselves more and more to carrying on without bothering about anyone at all.
Ma’s condition is now such that there’s actually nothing more wrong with her than that she has to learn to walk again right from the beginning — and her leg should gradually get less stiff by exercising. And it could have turned out much worse.
Something I wanted to ask you is why isn’t Cor going to Goupil, just as you and I started there when we were his age? I heard something about a plan to leave him at a Secondary School for another 2 years — I heard Pa suggest, in all seriousness, the bright idea of his becoming a ‘consul’. Although no one here at home, nor anyone with whom there has so far been any correspondence on this matter, actually knows what a consul actually does.
I couldn’t care less about the business — I believe that this consulate is something like the way an old lady in the village here thinks that the military police are such handsome men to behold. But it does surprise me greatly that I’ve simply never heard any talk about Goupil in regard to Cor. Why not? Particularly if you stay there, it seems to me, it’s obvious that Cor should go there too — later on you’d be company and support for each other — and in any event he’d be better off there, learn more, see more, than as a ‘consul’ or in a ‘notary’s office’ &c., or ‘the post office’, all highly respectable anyway, and much of a muchness. Cor himself, as far as I know, has no particular idea about wanting to enter this profession or that — because he’s probably seen little else at close quarters but books, the main road &c.
He’s a nice boy now, it seems to me, but it’s time that he did something practical, it seems to me, otherwise they go to seed, these young fellows, particularly if they end up in a rather too empty little office — go to seed in pedantry and nonentity.