Dutch artist, Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers has been called the rock star of paintings. The image of a simple bunch of flowers arranged in a pot has become one of the most recognised works of art across the world. What is less well known is that Van Gogh painted 11 sunflower paintings, five of which are versions of the famous painting held in London’s National Gallery.
In David Bickerstaff’s documentary, simply titled Sunflowers, the director takes us on a journey around the world visiting the southern French landscapes that inspired the works during the late 19th century, and the galleries where they are now displayed in London, Amsterdam, Munich, Philadelphia, and Tokyo.
This is the third film Bickerstaff has made on the artist; his previous two being, Vincent van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing (2015) and Van Gogh & Japan (2019). His knowledge and interest in Van Gogh is apparent, in the depth to which the film goes in uncovering stories of each of the paintings, the level of expert commentary, and the fascinating insight that comes from visual juxtapositions of these different works.
The cinematic journey introduces us to the many works and painters who influenced Van Gogh and those he later influenced. It also looks more widely at how sunflowers have been represented in art, and how Van Gogh came to use this towering flower, which he once said gave him hope for the future, as his motif.
There is a fascinating insight into the artist’s use of and experimentation with colour, encouraging a greater appreciation of creating a monochrome image that on one level can appear so simple. The artist’s techniques are further unveiled by new research at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, which used X-ray images and infra-red technology to see reveal the charcoal sketch below the surface of the paint.
In a packed 85 minutes, we come to a better appreciation of both the artist and his work, in an imaginative way which mixes views of art (both at a general gallery viewing distance and up close, where individual brush strokes are visible), with images of nature, expert interviews, dramatic interludes with actor Jamie de Courcey portraying Van Gogh and Jochum Ten Haaf bringing the artist’s thoughts to life by reading from letters, and a soundtrack of original music by Asa Bennett.
In this sense, although the film is based on Van Gogh and the Sunflowers at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, it is much more than an exhibition on screen. And the subject is covered in such academic depth that it will appeal to those with an interest in art history, as well as those who want to know more about this iconic work.
Sunflowers is released in cinemas across the UK from 8 June 2021, including Curzon, Everyman, Odeon, Picturehouse, Showcase, Vue and independent cinemas. Find your nearest cinema at exhibitiononscreen.com