Van Gogh Sunflower Triptych Reunited In London After 125 Years

Sunflowers, 1889 (c) Philadelphia Museum of Art

Two of Vincent van Gogh’s sunflower paintings, unseen together since their creation in 1889, will be reunited at the National Gallery later this year. For the first time, they will be displayed in the triptych layout Van Gogh originally envisioned.

The National Gallery owns one of these iconic sunflower paintings, which Van Gogh created in August 1888 for his brother Theo. The piece remained within the family until it was acquired by the gallery in 1924. The other painting produced a few months later, was left with Van Gogh’s friends, Mr and Mrs Ginoux, in Arles. It was later bought by Mr Carroll Tyson of Philadelphia in 1935 and has since been housed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This will be the first time the work has left the USA since 1935, travelling to London for this landmark exhibition.

Sunflowers, 1888 (c) The National Gallery, London;Lullaby: Madame Augustine Roulin Rocking a Cradle (La Berceuse), 1889 (c) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Sunflowers, 1889 (c) Philadelphia Museum of Art
Sunflowers, 1888 (c) The National Gallery, London; Lullaby: Madame Augustine Roulin Rocking a Cradle (La Berceuse), 1889 (c) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Sunflowers, 1889 (c) Philadelphia Museum of Art

The two sunflower paintings will flank a portrait of a lady, La Berceuse (1889), fulfilling Van Gogh’s intended arrangement—an artistic vision he never saw realised in his lifetime.

The sunflowers will highlight the National Gallery’s inaugural exhibition devoted entirely to Vincent van Gogh. Featuring over 50 works on loan from prestigious museums and private collections worldwide, the exhibition will delve into Van Gogh’s creative process and his sources of inspiration.

Titled Van Gogh: Poets and Lovers, the exhibition also celebrates the gallery’s 200th anniversary and marks a century since the acquisition of Sunflowers and Van Gogh’s Chair (1888), two of the gallery’s most celebrated pieces.

Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery, London, said: “This is the first exhibition devoted to Van Gogh ever held at the National Gallery. It marks two centuries of the Gallery’s existence and one since its acquisition of the Sunflowers. Museums and collectors have been astoundingly generous in lending great paintings to this show.”

In other related news, a US federal judge in Chicago recently dismissed claims to Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers (1888-89), valued at $250 million, brought by heirs of the German Jewish banker Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. The plaintiffs alleged that the painting was sold under duress by the Nazis in 1934. However, the court ruled it had no jurisdiction over the Japanese holding company that owns the painting, Sompo Holdings. The lawsuit, filed by Julius H. Schoeps, Britt-Marie Enhoerning, and Florence von Kesselstatt on behalf of over 30 beneficiaries, sought $750 million in punitive damages and the right to reclaim the painting under the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act of 2016.

The contested version of Sunflowers is one of three paintings by Van Gogh quickly in 1888 and 1889. The first resides in London’s National Gallery, and the third is at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. The second is a prized piece in Tokyo’s Sompo Museum of Art collection.

The Sunflowers case is the second Nazi loot claim dismissed by a US court in recent days. On May 29, an appeals court ruled that the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, could retain Bernardo Bellotto’s The Marketplace at Pirna (c. 1764), concluding that a restitution error made by a Dutch foundation in the 1940s was beyond the jurisdiction of the US legal system.

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