Vincent van Gogh lays claim to the sunflower

Vincent van Gogh lays claim to the sunflower
Photo by Margaret H. Laing

Do we ever really know what we do best?

As I’ve re-read the Penguin edition of “The Letters of Vincent van Gogh,” also described here and here, I’ve marveled again at his talent with words as well as paint. (I admit that some of his paintings bother me, but others, like several “Sunflowers” and “Starry Night over the Rhone,” are among my favorites.)

My neighbors’ sunflowers are fading, but Vincent’s live on in words as well as paint. On Jan. 22, 1889, after his break with Paul Gauguin drove the other man away from their “Studio of the South,” van Gogh found out that there was a painting Gauguin wanted to have. Vincent wrote:

“You mention a canvas of mine in your letter — Sunflowers on a yellow background — and make it plain you’d rather like to have it. I don’t think it’s altogether a bad choice — for if Jeannin can claim the peony, and Quost the hollyhock, then surely I, above all others, can lay claim to the sunflower.”

Jeannin? Quost? They’re lost to all but the experts. But van Gogh and sunflowers are inextricably linked in fame. Would his illness have progressed differently if he could have known that? Now there’s a mystery. I like to think that he knows now how appreciated his work is, but of course, I can’t know in this world.


For more fun with words, stop by the Margaret Serious page on Facebook.

I could have told you, Vincent: Type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Filed under: Uncategorized


Leave a comment
  • Kudos, Margaret. A very deserving award.

    Painters of flowers? Did van Gogh know Fantin Latour?

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Thank you for the kind words -- and for a great question. If Vincent did know Fantin Latour, my edition of the letters doesn't have any mention of him (to brother Theo or to other artists). As I remember a great white, red, and purple flower still-life by Fantin at the Art Institute, I am filled with hope -- hope that it's why you're asking, and hope that somehow, the two painters have met by now.

Leave a comment