Van Gogh Museum Plans to Restore Iconic ‘Sunflowers’ Painting

It's the curse of cadmium yellow.

Vincent van Gogh, Sunflowers (1889). This is a repetition of the fourth version of the composition. Photo: courtesy the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
Vincent van Gogh, Sunflowers (1889). This is a repetition of the fourth version of the composition. Courtesy the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

One of Vincent van Gogh‘s vibrant Sunflowers paintings may take on renewed life, thanks to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

The Art Newspaper reports that the painting is being examined in a conservation studio “to keep it in better condition for future generations,” according to a statement from the institution. They are scheduled to return to public view on March 24.

The 1889 canvas is a repetition of the fourth version of Sunflowers. The work was painted while van Gogh was living in Arles,  just a month after he cut off his ear. The original version can be found at London’s National Gallery, while versions of three other similar compositions belong to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Sompo Japan Museum of Art in Tokyo, and Munich’s Neue Pinakothek. A fifth version was destroyed during World War II.

Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait (1887)Photo via: Wikipedia

Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait (1887). Photo: via Wikipedia.

The museum is hoping to remove a discoloring coat of varnish and several retouched areas, which give the canvas a muted orange tone, and were likely added in 1927.

Another issue is van Gogh’s choice of cadmium yellow pigment. Scientists recently confirmed that the variety of yellow paint favored by many Impressionist, post-Impressionist, and early modernist artists will oxidize in the light, turning from bright yellow to a dull greenish-brown.

Vincent van Gogh, <em>Sunflowers</em> (1889). This is the third version of the composition. <br>Photo: courtesy the Neue Pinakothek, Munich.

Vincent van Gogh, Sunflowers (1889). This is the third version of the composition.
Photo: courtesy the Neue Pinakothek, Munich.

The altered appearance of his work would likely come as no surprise to the artist. “Paintings fade like flowers,” wrote van Gogh in one of his many letters to his brother Theo.

The famed painting is on permanent loan from the Vincent van Gogh Foundation (which opened its own museum in Arles in 2014) and is a star attraction at the Amsterdam institution.

A maze of sunflowers for the Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam. <br>Photo: courtesy the Van Gogh Museum.

A maze of sunflowers for the Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam.
Photo: courtesy the Van Gogh Museum.

This past February, the museum began selling high-quality replicas of Sunflowers and other van Gogh masterpieces in its collection, created in conjunction with Fujifilm Belgium using 3-D scanning and high-resolution printing. In September, the institution created a maze of 125,000 sunflowers to celebrate the opening of its new entrance hall.


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