SunFlowers, 1881 by Claude Monet

Sunflowers was exhibited at the seventh Impressionist exhibition. The sunflowers for this still life were taken from Monet's garden in Vetheuil, and the painting was revered by critics (who were wowed by his mastery of such a traditional subject) and Vincent Van Gogh, whose own depictions of sunflowers were to be among his own most popular and famous works.

Though some similarities between Van Gogh's Sunflowers and the ones of Monet exist, the first painted the individual sunflowers with a much higher level of detail whereas Monet focused more on the composition as a whole. Unlike Van Gogh, Monet painted the sunflowers with no sign of decay. Monet chose seven types of flowers for his still life works - sunflowers were among his most popular and this work accompanied five others to the Impressionist exhibition of 1882.

Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother in December 1888:

Gauguin was telling me the other day that he had seen a picture by Claude Monet of sunflowers in a large Japanese vase, very fine, but - he likes mine better. I don't agree - only don't think that I am weakening...I shall go on working and here and there among my work there will be things which will last, but who will be in figure painting what Claude Monet is in landscape? You must feel as I do that such a one will come.... The painter of the future will be a colorist such as has never yet existed.

Photo of Monet and Van Gogh's Sunflowers in Museum
Photo of Monet and Van Gogh's Sunflowers in Museum

Van Gogh's admiration for Monet was genuine. It is particularly in Monet's still lifes that we recognize what it was that Van Gogh learned from him: not simply the powerful and expressive palette but also a quality of impassioned drawing that is much more apparent in the flower paintings - forms painted at the range of stereoscopic vision, therefore more tactile - than in most of his landscapes.