Museums worldwide to ‘reunite’ van Gogh’s sunflowers in Facebook livestream

 Only five of the original six van Gogh sunflower paintings are still in existence. One of them is in Philadelphia. (Promotional image provided by the Philadelphia Museum or Art)

Only five of the original six van Gogh sunflower paintings are still in existence. One of them is in Philadelphia. (Promotional image provided by the Philadelphia Museum or Art)

Today the Philadelphia Museum of Art will be collaborating with four other museums around the world, via Facebook, to reunite a set of Vincent van Gogh most popular paintings.

The sunflower paintings, made in 1888-1889, have not been together in more than a century.

Van Gogh got very excited when he got word that another artist, Paul Gauguin, would be staying with him in Arles, France. He imagined a great artistic partnership between them. He wanted his new roommate to feel comfortable, so he made a set of paintings of sunflowers for Gauguin’s room.

“The way each of the flowers is rendered is different. They each have a personality to them,” said Jennifer Thompson, a curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “That sense of individuality is something that makes this series so compelling. He’s not copying himself; each time he’s going back and taking a new approach.”

He made seven paintings — six of them survive, five of those in public institutions, where they hold pride of place at The National Gallery in London, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Neue Pinakothek in Munich, the Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art in Tokyo, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

It’s unlikely the paintings will ever share the same room, again. The institutions rarely — if ever — loan them out. The PMA’s painting is contractually obligated to stay put: it was donated with the condition that it never leave.

Through Facebook Live they can get together online. Each museum will present their paintings for about 10 minutes before handing Facebook Live over to the next museum.

“This is the first time we’ve attempted to link, or pass a baton from one institution to another to create an event that allows to discuss these five paintings that are scattered around the globe,” said Thompson.

Thompson said she will talk about what makes the PMA’s painting different from the others, and why the sunflowers were so important to van Gogh that he would return to the subject repeatedly.

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