On Sunday I was watching the Impressionist disc of the BBC series Private Life of a Masterpiece (available from Netflix) and the second and third episodes really struck me.
The second was about Van Gogh’s famous sunflowers, which is in The National Gallery in London. I’m not a huge fan of Van Gogh’s but this is a painting I really like. Take a look at it. It’s almost all yellow, and most of the yellows are shades of yellow-orange. It’s the only one of his 11 sunflower paintings which has a yellow background and it livens the study so much, the painting glows. In the museum it is against a pale blue-violet wall which is the complement and so it glows even more.
The sunny colors and the restricted color scheme add to the painting’s greatness. But two other things heighten it. First the greens and browns in the flowers are all echo the yellows. Brown is a dark shade of orange and most of the greens are more green than yellow. Second, the blue line and the signature add a welcome contrasting note which makes the yellows more vivid.
The background isn’t flat, it’s textured, very subtly. As we do with stitches, Van Gogh did with paint, he deliberately used the texture of his brushstrokes to tell the story. And I didn’t know but Van Gogh used scraps of what looked like Tapestry wool to test color combinations. He had a little box of them he carried around. I think I’m going to try that too.