In November 1888, Van Gogh wrote: "Gauguin was telling me the other day—that he’d seen a painting by Claude Monet of sunflowers in a large Japanese vase, very fine. But—he likes mine better. I’m not of that opinion." Critics had earlier praised the "brio and daring" of Monet’s technique when he showed this still life, depicting sunflowers that grew along the pathway to his garden at Vétheuil, at the 1882 Impressionist exhibition.
The Painting: While living with his family at Vétheuil, a small suburb on the Seine northwest of Paris, Claude Monet took up floral painting both outdoors in the garden and indoors with cut flowers. From 1878 until 1883, he completed twenty floral still lifes, including this painting of sunflowers in a vase signed and dated by the artist in 1881. Bouquet of Sunflowers was shown at the seventh Impressionist exhibition of 1882, where critic Paul de Charry noted Monet’s "great talent" at painting still lifes (quoted in Isaacson 1986). The same year, he painted The Met’s Chrysanthemums (29.100.106), which has a nearly identical provenance. Monet exhibited both pictures in 1883 at the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel’s gallery, in 1886 with Les XX in Brussels, and in 1886 in New York at the National Academy of Design, making them among the first Impressionist paintings on view in the United States.
A rainy day was often the pretext for a floral still life for a painter as devoted to his garden as Monet became, first at Vétheuil and later at Giverny. (On Monet and gardening at Giverny, see the web catalogue entry for his Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies [The Met 29.100.113].) These particular flowers are probably the same as the sunflowers that grew to either side of the steps leading to his garden at Vétheuil (Moffett 1985); in the same year, Monet painted four views of the steps flanked by sunflowers, among them Garden at Vétheuil (see Additional Images, fig. 1). Able to sit and capture with exacting detail the state of the particular sunflowers he had chosen, Monet presented not only the "blazing" sunflowers described by his critic-friend Gustave Geffroy (1883) but also their simultaneously wilting leaves. Purposely placed a bit off-center, as has been noted (Richard Mühlberger, What Makes A Monet A Monet, New York, 1993, p. 29), the vase of flowers overspilled its assigned canvas space, so the artist truncated the blooms at right. The resultant cropped image seems to continue beyond the space of the canvas. Cropping in this fashion may well be a result of Monet’s relatively early exposure to Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, in which such cropping is typical. (On Monet’s first exposure to these prints, see the web entry for his Garden at Sainte-Adresse [The Met 67.241].) The still life is a pretext, too, for a study in complementary colors. Green leaves contrast with the red tablecloth, as blues peek through from the background to heighten the oranges in the flower petals, and pinks placed over these background blues create a violet effect in contrast to the yellow sunflowers. The artist would return to these same pinks and blues of the background in his Waterlilies series from the 1890s on.
While in Vétheuil, Monet painted three other paintings of flowers in this same vase: Dahlias (private collection), Asters (private collection, U.S.A.), and Jerusalem Artichoke Flowers (see Additional Images, fig. 2). Each image of the vase is from a slightly different angle, some highlighting the delicate blue painting on the porcelain more than others. The question of whether this vase is Chinese or Japanese is, according to The Met’s Brooke Russell Astor Curator of Chinese Art Denise Patry Leidy (via email with the author, June 10, 2016), not possible to determine, as both cultures have employed this shape of vase and the same blue pigment. (Earlier writers have identified it as either Japanese [see Gauguin’s comment to Van Gogh mentioned below, for example] or, similarly, Japanese or Chinese.) However, the inclusion of an Asian vase in The Met’s picture is another indication of Monet’s continued interest in all things Asian. The painter subtly transmutes the sheen of glaze on the porcelain into an irregular patchwork of brushstrokes that come together at a distance to convey the reflective surface of the vase.
The particular sunflowers depicted are a smaller variety known as "soleils" in France and by their botanical name, Helianthus chrysanthemum, in England (Joel 2002). This is a different variety from the larger sunflowers more typically found in the United States and also from those preferred by Vincent van Gogh, known in France as "tournesols" (for example, Sunflowers [The Met 49.41]).
The Sunflower Theme: While the image of a vase of sunflowers was more famously and less naturalistically explored by Van Gogh a bit later in the 1880s (for example, see Additional Images, figs. 3, 4), Monet’s depiction of the subject had an impact on both the Dutch painter and his friend Paul Gauguin. Gauguin had an opportunity to see this picture in Paris sometime before its departure for Brussels in February 1886, most likely at the Impressionist exhibition of 1882. In a letter to his brother Theo on November 19, 1888, Van Gogh reported, "Gauguin was telling me the other day—that he’d seen a painting by Claude Monet of sunflowers in a large Japanese vase, very fine. But—he likes mine better. I’m not of that opinion . . . ." (http://vangoghletters.org/vg/letters/let721/letter.html). Gauguin, himself, painted a Basket of Flowers (ca. 1884, Mr. and Mrs. William Coxe Wright collection, Philadelphia) that has been compared to The Met’s picture in its similarly textured background and sinuous rhythms (Roskill 1970). Van Gogh’s sunflowers have been seen as more individualized than the collective whole presented by Monet (Rosenblum 1975). His earthenware pots, too, are more self-consciously "of the people" than Monet’s Chinese or Japanese vase, then more of a Parisian luxury item than Van Gogh’s provincial pot (Cox 2011).
Still, the impetus to locate expressivity in the sunflower began with Monet’s canvas and continued in Van Gogh’s several versions of the flower. For, as noted by Gordon and Forge (1983), "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. In these sumptuous flower paintings done only when the weather prevented outdoor work, the drawing and color are carried along together with tremendous impetus. His love for flowers is unmistakable. The character, the quality of growth, the specific rhythm of each bouquet is given its due." When both Chrysanthemums and Bouquet of Sunflowers arrived at The Met with the Havemeyer bequest in 1929, the reviewer Frank Jewett Mather Jr. (1930) gushed, "The representation is so complete, joyous and instructive that it becomes really a matter of indifference to the Metropolitan Museum whether it acquires further Monets or not."
[Jane R. Becker 2016]
Inscription: Signed and dated (upper right): Claude Monet 81
[Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1881–86; bought from the artist on October 30, 1881; stock no. 1959; sold in 1886 to Kingman]; Alden Wyman Kingman, New York (1886–?1892; sold to Durand-Ruel]; Catholina Lambert, Paterson, N.J. (1892?–1899; sold to Durand-Ruel); [Durand-Ruel, New York, 1899; stock no. 2120; sold on March 10, 1899 to Havemeyer]; Mr. and Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, New York (1899–his d. 1907); Mrs. H. O. (Louisine W.) Havemeyer, New York (1907–d. 1929; cat., 1931, p. 154)
Paris. Salons du panorama de Reischoffen. "7me exposition des artistes indépendants [7th Impressionist exhibition]," ?March 1–31, 1882, no. 78 (as "Bouquet de soleils").
Paris. Durand-Ruel. "Exposition des Oeuvres de Claude Monet," March 1–25, 1883, no. 14 (as "Bouquet de soleils," lent by M. Durand-Ruel).
Brussels. Palais des Beaux-Arts. "Troisième exposition annuelle des XX," February 6–March 7, 1886, no. 7 (as "Soleils," lent by Durand-Ruel).
New York. National Academy of Design. "Works in Oil and Pastel by the Impressionists of Paris," May 25–June 30, 1886, no. 293.
New York. Union League Club. "Paintings by Old Masters, and Modern Foreign and American Painters, together with an Exhibition of the Work of Claude Monet the Impressionist," February 12–14, 1891, no. 48 (lent by A. W. Kingman).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The H. O. Havemeyer Collection," March 10–November 2, 1930, no. 83 [2nd ed., 1958, no. 176].
Newark Museum. "Flower Paintings by European Masters of the 19th and 20th Centuries," May 16–June 25, 1950, no. 9.
Richmond. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. "Paintings by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists," October 20–November 19, 1950, unnum. checklist.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art Treasures of the Metropolitan," November 7, 1952–September 7, 1953, no. 146.
City Art Museum of St. Louis. "Claude Monet," September 25–October 22, 1957, no. 47.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts. "Claude Monet," November 1–December 1, 1957, no. 47.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Impressionism: A Centenary Exhibition," December 12, 1974–February 10, 1975, not in catalogue.
Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. State Hermitage Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," May 22–July 27, 1975, no. 68.
Moscow. State Pushkin Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," August 28–November 2, 1975, no. 68.
Washington. National Gallery of Art. "The New Painting: Impressionism 1874–1886," January 17–April 6, 1986, no. 123 (as "Bouquet de soleils").
San Francisco. M. H. de Young Memorial Museum. "The New Painting: Impressionism 1874–1886," April 19–July 6, 1986, no. 123.
Amsterdam. Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh. "Franse meesters uit het Metropolitan Museum of Art: Realisten en Impressionisten," March 15–May 31, 1987, no. 23.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection," March 27–June 20, 1993, no. A399.
Paris. Musée d'Orsay. "La collection Havemeyer: Quand l'Amérique découvrait l'impressionnisme...," October 20, 1997–January 18, 1998, no. 29.
Moscow. State Pushkin Museum. "Claude Monet," November 26, 2001–February 10, 2002, no. 19 (as "Bouquet de soleils").
St. Petersburg. State Hermitage Museum. "Claude Monet," March 1–May 15, 2002, no. 19.
Martigny. Fondation Pierre Gianadda. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne," June 23–November 12, 2006, no. 46.
Barcelona. Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. "Grandes maestros de la pintura europea de The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York: De El Greco a Cézanne," December 1, 2006–March 4, 2007, no. 38.
Berlin. Neue Nationalgalerie. "Französische Meisterwerke des 19. Jahrhunderts aus dem Metropolitan Museum of Art," June 1–October 7, 2007, unnumbered cat.
Lisbon. Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. "A Perspectiva das Coisas – A Natureza-Morta na Europa, Segunda parte: Séculos XIX-XX (1840–1955)," October 21, 2011–January 8, 2012, no. 16.
Gustave Geffroy. "Chronique—Claude Monet." La Justice (March 15, 1883), p. 2.
"The French Impressionist Pictures." New York Mail and Express (May 24, 1886) [see Ref. Wildenstein 1974].
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to his brother Theo. [on or about November 19, 1888] [Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, inv. nos. b610 a–b V/1962; pub. in. Van Gogh Letters 1958, letter no. 563; Van Gogh Letters 2009, letter no. 721], writes that "Gauguin was telling me the other day—that he'd seen a painting by Claude Monet of sunflowers in a large Japanese vase, very fine. But—he likes mine better".
P. H. "L'Exposition de Monet à l'Union League Club, New York." L'Art dans les Deux Mondes no. 15 (February 28, 1891), p. 173.
Madeleine Octave Maus. Trente années de lutte pour l'art: 1884–1914. Brussels, 1926, p. 43 n. 2.
"Havemeyer Collection at Metropolitan Museum: Havemeyers Paid Small Sums for Masterpieces." Art News 28 (March 15, 1930), p. 35.
Frank Jewett Mather Jr. "The Havemeyer Pictures." The Arts 16 (March 1930), p. 481.
H. O. Havemeyer Collection: Catalogue of Paintings, Prints, Sculpture and Objects of Art. n.p., 1931, p. 154.
Stephen Gwynn. Claude Monet and His Garden: The Story of an Artist's Paradise. New York, 1934, p. 168.
George Besson. Claude Monet (1840–1926). Paris, [194–], pl. 38.
Oscar Reuterswärd. Monet. Stockholm, 1948, p. 280.
William C. Seitz inClaude Monet. Exh. cat., City Art Museum of St. Louis. Minneapolis, 1957, pp. 26–27, no. 47, ill., comments on its relationship to Van Gogh's later pictures of the same subject.
Vincent van Gogh. The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh with Reproductions of All the Drawings in the Correspondence. Greenwich, Conn., 1958, under letter no. 563.
William C. Seitz. Claude Monet. New York, , pp. 114–15, ill. (color), calls it the finest of Monet's flower studies, seeing in it the same new emotional expressiveness displayed in his pictures of floating ice.
Luigina Rossi Bortolatto. L'opera completa di Claude Monet, 1870–1889. Milan, 1966, pp. 102–3, no. 224, ill.
Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 3, XIX–XX Centuries. New York, 1967, pp. 132–33, ill.
Margaretta M. Salinger. "Windows Open to Nature." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 27 (Summer 1968), unpaginated, ill.
Konrad Hoffmann. "Zu van Goghs Sonnenblumenbildern." Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 31 (1968), pp. 28–30, fig. 2, relates it to Van Gogh's later works depicting the same subject.
Mark Roskill. Van Gogh, Gauguin, and the Impressionist Circle. Greenwich, Conn., 1970, pp. 41, 295, pl. 9, compares it to Gauguin's "Basket of Flowers" of about 1884 (Mr. and Mrs. William Coxe Wright collection, Philadelphia).
Douglas Cooper. "The Monets in the Metropolitan Museum." Metropolitan Museum Journal 3 (1970), pp. 292–93, 296–97, 302–3, 305, fig. 13, calls it one of the artist's "major achievements in the genre and one of the most spectacular Monets in the Metropolitan's collection".
John Rewald. "The Impressionist Brush." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 32, no. 3 (1973/1974), ill. p. 56 and on back cover (color detail).
Daniel Wildenstein. Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné. Vol. 1, 1840–1881: Peintures. Lausanne, 1974, pp. 382–83, no. 628, ill., dates it 1880.
Robert Rosenblum. Modern Painting and the Northern Romantic Tradition: Friedrich to Rothko. New York, 1975, pp. 86–87, fig. 114, contrasts it to one of Van Gogh's pictures of sunflowers (Tate Gallery, London).
Daniel Wildenstein. Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné. Vol. 2, 1882–1886: Peintures. Lausanne, 1979, p. 13, n. 145, p. 44, n. 465, p. 47, n. 484.
Robert Gordon and Andrew Forge. Monet. New York, 1983, pp. 215, 293, ill.
Frances Weitzenhoffer. "The Earliest American Collectors of Monet." Aspects of Monet. Ed. John Rewald and Frances Weitzenhoffer. New York, 1984, pp. 82–83.
Charles S. Moffett. Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1985, pp. 130–31, 252, ill. (color, overall and detail).
Frances Weitzenhoffer. The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America. New York, 1986, pp. 135, 256.
Joel Isaacson inThe New Painting: Impressionism 1874–1886. Ed. Charles S. Moffett. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington. San Francisco, 1986, pp. 394–95, 405, no. 123, ill. (color), dates it 1880–81.
Sjraar van Heutgen et al. inFranse meesters uit het Metropolitan Museum of Art: Realisten en Impressionisten. Exh. cat., Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 1987, pp. 17, 21, 23, 72–73, no. 23, ill. (color and black and white).
Gary Tinterow et al. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 8, Modern Europe. New York, 1987, pp. 8, 33, colorpl. 17.
Richard Kendall, ed. Monet by Himself. London, 1989, ill. p. 96 (color).
Karin Sagner-Düchting. Claude Monet, 1840–1926: Ein Fest für die Augen. Cologne, 1990, p. 109, ill. p. 110 (color).
Gary Tinterow. "Miracle au Met." Connaissance des arts no. 472 (June 1991), p. 36.
William R. Johnston. "Alfred Sisley and Early Interest in Impressionism in America, 1865–1913." Alfred Sisley. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London. New Haven, 1992, ill. p. 60 [French ed., "Sisley," Paris, 1992, ill. p. 68], reproduces an 1896 photograph showing this picture hanging on the top balcony of the Grand Art Hall in Catholina Lambert's Belle Vista castle.
Virginia Spate. Claude Monet: Life and Work. New York, 1992, p. 151, ill.
Susan Alyson Stein inSplendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, p. 226.
Gary Tinterow inSplendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, p. 33, colorpl. 38.
Gretchen Wold inSplendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, pp. 363–64, no. A399, ill.
Virginia Spate. "Confronting the Sun, Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet 1888–91." Van Gogh, The Songlines of Legend. Ed. Felicity St. John Moore. Melbourne, , pp. 51–52.
Daniel Wildenstein. Monet. Vol. 2, Catalogue raisonné–Werkverzeichnis: Nos. 1–968. 2nd ed. Cologne, 1996, pp. 239–40, no. 628, ill. (color).
Gary Tinterow inLa collection Havemeyer: Quand l'Amérique découvrait l'impressionnisme. Exh. cat., Musée d'Orsay. Paris, 1997, pp. 57, 62–63, no. 29, ill. p. 64 (color).
Susan Alyson Stein inLa collection Havemeyer: Quand l'Amérique découvrait l'impressionnisme. Exh. cat., Musée d'Orsay. Paris, 1997, p. 19.
Caroline Durand-Ruel. "Quand les Havemeyers aimaient la peinture française." Connaissance des arts no. 544 (November 1997), p. 108.
Matthias Arnold. Claude Monet. Hamburg, 1998, ill. p. 85.
Richard Shone. The Janice H. Levin Collection of French Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2002, p. 65.
David Joel. Monet at Vétheuil and on the Norman Coast, 1878–1883. Woodbridge, England, 2002, p. 109, ill. p. 108 (color), notes that the flowers depicted are a smaller variety of sunflower called "soleil" in French and "helianthus chrysanthemum" in England.
Mary Anne Stevens inAlfred Sisley: Poète de l'impressionnisme. Exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons. Paris, 2002, pp. 84, 353, fig. 41.
Daniel Wildenstein, Sylvie Crussard, and Martine Heudron. Gauguin, A Savage in the Making: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings (1873–1888). Milan, 2002, vol. 2, p. 544, ill., note that Gauguin could have seen it exhibited in 1882 and 1883, or in the Durand-Ruel gallery before it was exported to the United States in 1886.
Shôko Kobayashi inVan Gogh and Flowers. Ed. Shôko Kobayashi. Exh. cat., Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Museum of Art. [Tokyo], 2003, p. 56, fig. 1.
Christoph Becker et al. Monet's Garden. Exh. cat., Kunsthaus Zürich. Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany, 2004, pp. 40–41, 196, no. 23, ill. (color) [German ed., "Monets Garten," Ostfildern-Ruit, 2004].
Kathryn Calley Galitz inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne. Exh. cat., Fondation Pierre Gianadda. Martigny, 2006, pp. 238–40, no. 46, ill. (color) [Catalan ed., Barcelona, 2006, pp. 130–31, no. 38, ill. (color)].
Katharine Baetjer inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne. Exh. cat., Fondation Pierre Gianadda. Martigny, 2006, p. 18 [Catalan ed., Barcelona, 2006, p. 18].
Eric M. Zafran inClaude Monet (1840–1926): A Tribute to Daniel Wildenstein and Katia Granoff. Exh. cat., Wildenstein & Co., Inc. New York, 2007, pp. 84, 92, 96, fig. 16 (installation photograph of The Grand Art Hall, Belle Vista Castle, Paterson, NJ home of Catholina Lambert, in 1896), notes that Kingman purchased it from Durand-Ruel at the 1886 Impressionist show in New York.
Kathryn Calley Galitz inMasterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, pp. 141, 283, no. 130, ill. (color and black and white).
Louis van Tilborgh. Van Gogh and the Sunflowers. Amsterdam, 2008, p. 31, fig. 26 (color).
Vincent van Gogh. Vincent van Gogh—The Letters. Ed. Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten, and Nienke Bakker. London, 2009, vol. 4, p. 362, fig. 5 (color), under letter no. 721.
Neil Cox. In the Presence of Things – Four Centuries of Still Life Painting, Part 2: 19th–20th Centuries (1840–1955). Exh. cat., Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. Lisbon, 2011, pp. 68–69, no. 16, ill. (color), discusses its influence on Van Gogh's Sunflowers series.
Martin Bailey. The Sunflowers Are Mine: The Story of Van Gogh's Masterpiece. London, 2013, pp. 18, 68, 214 n. 4, fig. 29 (color), notes that Gauguin had probably seen the painting in Paris a year or two after it had been painted, either when it was on exhibition at the Société des Artistes Indépendants (1882) or when on view at Durand-Ruel (1883) and adds that Van Gogh might have seen the picture at Durand-Ruel in Paris in spring 1886; observes that the painting was produced in the period when Monet was living in Vétheuil, where he cultivated sunflowers in his garden.
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, pp. 445, 532, ill. pp. 393, 445 (color).