Van Gogh’s Sunflowers: The misunderstood masterpiece

It’s reproduced everywhere, from endless photos to gift shop trinkets but, asks William Cook, have we missed the meaning behind one of the world’s most famous works of art?

Thursday 04 July 2019 14:11
‘Sunflowers’, the fourth repetition of the painting, hangs in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam
‘Sunflowers’, the fourth repetition of the painting, hangs in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam

In the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, between the toilets and the gift shop, tourists are queueing up to take selfies in front of Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers. They don’t want a photo of the painting – they want a photo of themselves in front of it. They want to put it on Facebook and Instagram. They want their friends and followers to know that they were here.

Yet if you look a little closer, you realise this narcissistic cavalcade isn’t quite what it seems. This isn’t the real Sunflowers, it’s a plastic reproduction – the same size, the same colours but with bigger brushstrokes, so blind visitors can run their hands over it and see these sunflowers in their mind’s eye.

These sighted visitors don’t care that this Van Gogh is made of plastic. For them it scarcely matter what’s real and what’s unreal anymore. For them, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers has ceased to be a painting. It’s a prop for their tweets and Snapchat posts, a backdrop in the endless movie of their lives.

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