Fading Flowers-Van Gogh and Sunflowers

Aging gracefully or not…

Around the world, curators have been mystified at the fading of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings of sunflowers from the 1880’s. They were known for their bright yellow color, a result of Van Gogh using a new paint, lead-chromate yellow, called chrome yellow, in order to achieve the vibrant color.

Very recently it has been determined that chromium in the yellow paint reacts with the white pigment in the presence of sunlight.

It is sad that the paintings have been fading over time to a muddy, coffee brown within the last century, but Van Gogh’s painting is all about the cycle of life.

Looking closely at the painting reveals the cycle in detail, where gathered in the same vase, are brightly yellow sunflowers along side withering likenesses of themselves only weeks before. Drooping in the twilight of life.

The sun has been fading the sunflowers of the painting as it grows older the same as it faded those that were painted. Is this not ironic that the painting has embodied the essence of the artist’s depiction?

Not all his sunflower paintings are fading though. Scientists at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility determined with X-ray technology which ones are affected and why. They hit the paint with a high-intensity X-ray and found that the colorfast samples were made of chromium in its pure crystalline form. This is such an important discovery.

Van Gogh found beauty in life and death in his series on Sunflowers. I wonder if he knew his sunflowers would fade by the amount and type of chromium in his paint? I too love the artistry in flowers in the throws of death. See below.

See the irony of life below in the roses?  The new rose unfurls as the older one fades and curls. What a bummer getting old, I digress…

And to slow the process of fading, the painting must be housed in a darkened gallery. What scientists found was they can not stop the darkening process, only slow it down. So, what does that say about life in general?

How about the next two images? I forced the decomposition along with a little spin in the microwave. Waiting was getting to this impatient photographer.

Cool, huh? I placed them in a little morning light beam and cropped the shot in half.

Most people agree that flowers are beautiful. But flowers are fleeting and I admit to loving them in life and loving them in death. Finding beauty in both because it is natural and right. We can be sad or we can be accepting. As time closes in, accepting becomes reality.

Now, I took a shot of the fading flowers and did a lot of Photoshop work, channeling a few Masters. I wish….. But, unlike working in oils, which would take me over a month to complete, my Photoshop painting took only 20 minutes. Hey, it could be better I know, but I am not selling it.

Hope you enjoyed my philosophical look at fading flowers. Fading is natural for all of us.

Happy Monday!


About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
This entry was posted in Did U Know, Drawings and Paintings, FLOWERS, garden and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to Fading Flowers-Van Gogh and Sunflowers

  1. Jess says:

    Those are beautiful images of your aging experiment… however I am not signed on to this aging gracefully stuff!! hate aging. The fact that my garden is ephemeral gets to me too 🙂

    • Was it not cool to cook the flowers. I was going to push it until they were crispy, but will save if for some really cool effects I will try later. I think I can paint them and they will be so unique. Even with photography, they may turn out interestin in different light and on different background. I am onto something here I think. Sometimes the simplest things occur out of impatience.

  2. I love your knowledge of art and gardening. I am a huge art appreciator and often find small, intimate galleries almost as soothing as my garden. I have a wonderful print of Van Gogh in my classroom. He’s one of my favorite artists but I had never heard the reasons why his Sunflowers painting was fading. I like your connections between the fading paint and the cycle of life. It seems even the objects created to be permanent end up being temporary. But if everything and everyone were guaranteed to be here forever, would they be as precious? Or would they become like a living landscape, noticed only when it changes?

    • Your comment is one of the best I ever had. I have been reluctant to talk about art on the blog and was going to save if for my Green Apples blog. But this is a new development in the art world and I wanted larger readership. Van Gogh was a true master and it would not surprise me if he had known about the chromium mix and did it intentionally.

      I am so sure he experimented with his paint. Like me, I bet he set test canvas out in the sun, in damp places etc. to see what would happen and figure out why. I never researched this and I wonder if anyone did. I am just guessing as a frustrated and eventually mad artist, he may have looked at cause and effect, even if it was during his ‘mad’ years. Plus he had interest in understanding the spiritual essence of man and nature, so to me…. this seems like something he would have done on purpose.

  3. wonderful post Donna, I don’t find it ironic that Van Gogh’s sunflowers are fading, the paintings live and die,
    thanks for the info re the paint ~ interesting, my 8 year old grandson is looking at Van Gogh in his art and craft lessons this term, how different from when I was at school in the 1950’s we never had any input on Artists,
    I like your photoshopped flowers, Frances

    • Thanks Frances. We too had very little art background and history in school in the 70’s. It was not until college that I had art history and architectural history courses. It opened my eyes up to the why’s rather than the how’s. How can be learned, why must be felt.

      It would be ironic if he knew ahead of time like I am proposing in my comment above. But chances are I am just dreaming.

      It is funny too how you mention paintings passing, when curators try their darnedest to preserve for all time. And at great lengths I might add. Maybe this is the irony.

      • sorry Donna yes I did get your point that he may have intentionally meant them to fade funny thing was I was thinking this as I was reading the post then you said/wrote it, some Artists create work to break down and see the breaking down as part of their Art, I can understand curators wanting to preserve work for future generations but that’s curators, artists are different, also for me, I think the doing is the important part for the artist, when finished he/she moves on to explore new …….
        I used to work as a theatre costumier and in living art it is all of the moment, Frances

        • I agree that doing it is the joy of creating. Putting thoughts to canvas. I have put works away and come back and have not even remembered drawing them. Somebody could show me and might have to tell me it came from my archives long ago. And with aging, that time seems to be getting shorter and more likely. 😀

  4. Donna says:

    Donna I so feel this post and know what you mean…as we age there is still beauty in our bloom…it may look different but none the less it has beauty….it is seeing this beauty that is important…a very powerful post…I love Van Gogh and especially his fading flowers…your artistry is magnificent too!!!

    • Thanks so much Donna. You really did get my meaning. Beauty is not just within like they always say when addressing age. It is like you said, different. It is interesting in a much deeper way. The fading flowers do not all fade the same. Weather plays on their demise and even two identical blooms will look vastly different in death.

      I find the shadowing most alluring, and I paint a lot of portraiture and my favorite subject to paint is older people. There is character in the face and it is so much more appealing to capture.

  5. lula says:

    Cool study of evanescence in images! I belie that beauty is in the eyes of the observer, so I think that fading away has its reasons. Hum, flower and microwave: nature for science!

    • I am so glad you stopped. Beauty is such a subjective issue. And fading has its purpose in the world of life. All comes to pass. Like the flowers, I find such interest in the browning decomposition of them. The form goes unrecognizable over time. I found some crazy organic matter on a log a while back. It was so interesting, and I had no clue what it was in life. I tried to photograph it for others to see why I found it interesting, but could not get a shot to show how I felt and show the uniqueness of the form.

  6. This is one of my favorite posts! I do love Van Gogh…in fact one of my favorite museums is the Kroeller Mueller museum which sits in the middle of Hoge Veluwe park in The Netherlands. It houses a large collection of Van Gogh paintings. I frequented that museum often during my 5 years there. Your photos are outstanding and philosophy on aging is a very good approach!

  7. EvoOrganic says:

    Beautiful pictures! I especially love the one put in the mircrowave! Such beautiful colors. Now I’m inspired to grab my camera and capture the dying flowers I got for Valentines Day haha

    • You should. The forms will be of such interest, plus the colors too. When I cooked the gerbera, blues came out when I took the image as the light cast a rainbow of color. I love playing with texture too, so I may get out my macro lens and shoot just petals and see what happens.

  8. Ginny says:

    I enjoyed your philosophical look very much! I think there is great beauty in aging, though it’s much easier to see and appreciate that beauty in the aging of flowers than in the face in the mirror. But the beauty that comes with age isn’t just a beauty with see with our eyes – it’s a beauty we feel with our hearts. It makes me think of The Velveteen Rabbit and being “real”.

    • Hi Ginny. I agree about beauty seen with the eyes. It is so subjective. Around the world, in different cultures, and even at different times through history, what was considered beautiful changed in both possessions and in physical appearance of people. I like your ‘seeing beauty with the heart’. I never really thought of it that way. It is such a wonderful thought. I have to look up the Velveteen Rabbit, not anything I know about.

  9. Masha says:

    A very fun post. It is interesting to compare painting and photography, that’s something I have been thinking about myself. It seems that with the development of technology, photography has become much more creative, and closer to painting (as you show beautifully in your pictures), expanding the creator’s horizons beyond simply imitating the visual world. In painting also, technological advances, such as the discovery of the binding properties of oil, led to breakthroughs in creativity and artistry.
    Your pictures are very imaginative and well-executed. Will you write a post on photography too?

  10. Donna, Your post urged me to philosophical dreaming. It is funny that we humans are so focused on keeping things the same, particularly holding on to our youth, when it’s impossible. What gives me hope ultimately is that even if humans totally screw up and destroy ourselves, the planet has been here and will continue to be here with or without us. It will be a mere blink of time before we are forgotten and life will recover. Wow, I think I need a glass of wine. I’ve been working outside in the cold all day. Carolyn

  11. Marguerite says:

    How interesting that the paintings are fading away but that is, as you say, the cycle of life. Even inanimate objects have a point where they begin to decompose.

  12. lifeshighway says:

    Donna, a very moving post and I feel so sad at the aging of Van Gogh’s sunflower studies. Because he was a trouble genius, I too wonder at your conjecture that he may have intended the slow fading of his work. I suspect it began happening before people really began to notice. Like those little wrinkles that snuck up on me when I was asleep last night.

  13. One says:

    I enjoy your beautiful flowers especially the fading ones. Coincidentally I posted almost a similar first photo (white flower) on another blog yesterday. I’ve just created it for a society.

    Your 20min masterpiece does look like oil painting.

  14. Andrea says:

    Hi Donna, i almost did not put my share here as i felt like the discussion seems so deep as when artists go into a discussion. As the old cliche goes ‘beauty is in the eye…’, but we havent heard of ‘kid’s wisdom’, being wise always seem to go with the elderly! These are all phases or stages, and everything as in biological or otherwise, go thru phases, and all phases are necessary, functional and beautiful! And you are a deep thinker, not just a good artist-photographer! That 20 min photoshop is very beautiful, i even prefer that than the fading Van Gogh. Is that heretic?

    And I like what you said ” How can be learned, why must be felt”. I haven’t thought of that before. So is physiology, it is the whys, the hows and the because of life!

  15. m3rma1d says:

    Wow, just… Wow.

    I wouldn’t mind getting old if I could look THAT pretty!

  16. I hadn’t heard about the fading sunflowers. I agree, there is a certain pathos in art imitating life like that. Beautiful photographs.

  17. p3chandan says:

    Too bad about the fading of Van Gogh’s famous Sunflower painting. I guess its an irony what happened to his painting when he painted a life cycle of the sunflower. I dont mind getting old, getting is a life cycle…But would like to grow old gracefully without suffering the aches and creaking of my old bones or any disease…just to enjoy life with my married son and future grandchildren! Great post and beautiful photos especially the last one!

  18. Dear Donna, How very interesting! You share one of my favorite artists. The passion and understanding of nature in his work is moving and inspiring. I wonder which came first the madness that somehow allowed him to see the depth of feeling, emotion, movement and intensity in nature or if his working so hard and in poverty ( his brother did his best to help him) that drove him mad. I will have to rediscover this . . . was he bipolar or schizophrenic? I know there have been studies on this topic. Neither he nor his brother could have ever imagined, how much his paintings would someday sell for. I wonder too, if he could have known about the chromium. I could certainly be wrong, but really think he struggled so much to be a good painter in the moment . . . I believe he was so in the moment . . . I must admit that many years have gone by since I read everything I could about his life. He just does not seem like the type, somehow to do all the tests and to know about that, then I could have just missed that side of him. Perhaps because I was not painting back when I was so keenly interested in his life, I did not pay attention. It may have been common knowledge, but why bother trying so hard to mix the right colors only to have them fade . . . to not have the control. More questions arise? I know of his spiritual yearnings, as he was a minister early on, for the very poor . . . a coal mining town I think. He saw so much suffering then and perhaps that did influence his work. How could it not. To see life fade so quickly, from people living in dire poverty and whose work was so harmful to one’s health. I am sure chromium could not have been good for his mental health either. I love your over layering the fading flowers with the freshness of real flowers and life fading. Paintings are different from life and I can see holding them somewhere, to preserve them, so that admirers can flock to see the actual brushstrokes. I am often told by guards to not get so close! (I think it would be great if real paintings could be more a part of life . . . a lending library so to speak, where they are hung in more public places . . . outside of museums. . . periodically. Somewhere safe, of course.) We cannot do the same to preserve our short lives or even more fleeting outward beauty, though we too do hide from the sun these days. You have inspired me to want to reread the letters between Leo and Vincent and to ponder more these intriguing questions. I love your photographs and especially your photo/painting! Wonderful colors and movement . . . You are, as I have said before, such a Talent!! Fabulous post!

  19. Carol, you have added to my best all time, thought provoking comments ever. I too have read on him and his brother, his madness and I always read schizophrenia, but bipolar seems to fit as easily. But his bizarre actions and hallucinations at times leans the other way. I know I wondered too if he would have tried different methods for mixing paint, but he had compulsion in his work so maybe. Just the amount of work generated in the span of the last ten years of life was astonishing. He was incredibly deep and I imagine so much of this related to his unfortunate past, poverty, spirituality and eventual madness. So relating it to his mortality and demise seems a natural fit. I too will have to do more in depth reading. A trip to the library is in order.

    His quote on color says much. ‘Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I have before my eyes, I use color more arbitrarily so as to express myself more forcibly.’ I see a deep need of inner expression here, one I wish I could experience. He was well beyond his time with his art. Starry Night is a fave of mine and he did that while institutionalized if I remember correctly.

    I too wish I could see more art firsthand. A trip to the Netherlands would be wonderful. Carol, I have wanted to do more posts on random art thinking, make relationships and such. I did not know it would interest many, but it appears it does. Like my posting on bloggers hometowns, I hope more find inspiration and relationship between art and nature and make their observations too. I think when people do this it makes for some incredible designs and ideas to produce in a three dimensional fashion. I often look to painting for garden inspiration, as I look to nature when designing architecture and interiors. Forging the inside outside relationship.

    I am back and forth in the kitchen doing the mundane thing of making soup, so I better sign off here, but I look forward to others joining in and making posts connecting art and gardens, and even deeper as life and death. Fun to sit and let your mind wonder.

  20. Alistair says:

    Interesting about the fading colours of Van Gogh work, I have not heard of this as yet. All very reflective stuff for an old guy, thoroughly enjoyed it.

  21. Layanee says:

    I love it! The photoshop picture is a painting. I also love aging flowers. They are so ‘in your face’ with their demise.

  22. b-a-g says:

    Donna ,
    I don’t know much about art. I have only seen posters of the most famous paintings of well-known artists but your post has inspired me to look up Van Gogh’s work on the internet. I might even print out a picture of the Sunflowers painting and put it up in my office – I’ll certainly never think of it as “just a vase of flowers” again.

    b-a-g .

  23. Well said, the connection between Van Gogh’s painting of life and death and the slow and eventual death of his sunflower paintings. It is sad, but growing older is also. Things change. We become kinder and wise (I hope), but our bodies begin to slowly fade. Thank you and Happy Monday to you too.~~Dee

  24. patty says:

    Very thought provoking post Donna. I wonder if there are photographs spanning a long period of Van Gogh’s sunflowers that if put side by side we could see the change of colour. I wonder if it would look like they were moving.

  25. Jennifer says:

    Hi Donna,
    Weren’t you channeling a little of that mad artist’s creativity when you zapped your flower in the microwave! I like your colorful artwork. Photoshop is great fun isn’t it?And you did Van Gogh proud!
    I have been fortunate enough to see Van Gogh paintings in the flesh in New York, Paris and London. There is a painting of blue irises on a startling white background in the Met. that would takes my breath away. I also have a poster of an artwork with white roses in my home (When I saw the painting, I had to have a copy). The background for the roses was the most amazing color of lime green you could ever imagine. I do believe that Van Gogh took an interest in the passage from life to death, but I am not so sure he would be happy with the fading colors. The man loved vivid colors way to much.

  26. Cat says:

    I enjoyed this thought provoking post Donna. The quiet reflections of my garden this winter as I’ve tried to find topics to post about has brought about a new fascination with the fading beauty of dying blooms. There are many interesting points you make and I’m sure I’ll continue to think on them for a while…thanks for the food for thought.

  27. Bom says:

    I enjoyed this post, Donna. Thank you for the information about the paints. Quite interesting facts. Also great images but I especially liked the zapped flower shots ( I have never thought of microwaving flowers) and the “oil” painting.

  28. Eve says:

    Hi Donna,
    What a wonderful post. You know I love art but don’t study it as much as I should. I am really drawn to these fading Van Gogh sunflowers. Thanks for doing some homework so I could learn something interesting!
    And your artwork…..the perfect stunning finishing touch!
    Thanks for visiting my blog. I lived in Chaumont, NY near Lake Ontairo for many years before I moved here to Alabama and never went to see Niagara Falls! How sad for me!

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