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Sunflowers: Symbols of happiness

Experiments with colour

Van Gogh's Sunflowers uses an impressive range of techniques, from tiny pointillist dots to thick sculptural strokes. He also breaks some of the cardinal rules of painting from the time.

Detail from Van Gogh, Sunflowers, 1888 

The colour theories followed by the Impressionists dictated that to intensify colours, one should place opposing colours next to each other – yellow next to purple for example.

Van Gogh experimented with putting the sunflowers against a blue background but his later versions have yellow flowers in a yellow vase on a yellow table, against a yellow wall and yet the picture seems to radiate light.

Van Gogh was not trying to make an exact copy of reality in his paintings. He did not use colour merely to imitate nature, but to express emotion.

Next: Van Gogh's chair