In 1888, Vincent Van Gogh left Paris for Arles in the south of France where he rented a house and invited his friend and mentor Paul Gauguin to come and join him so they could paint together.
While waiting for Gauguin to arrive, Van Gogh decided to paint some pictures to decorate his friend’s bedroom. So he painted sunflowers – as a sign of welcome and appreciation of Gauguin as an artist.
Writing to his brother Theo in August of 1888, Van Gogh said:
"I am hard at it, painting with the enthusiasm of a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse, which won't surprise you when you know that what I’m at is the painting of some sunflowers.
“If I carry out this idea there will be a dozen panels. So the whole thing will be a symphony in blue and yellow. I am working at it every morning from sunrise on, for the flowers fade so quickly. I am now on the fourth picture of sunflowers. This fourth one is a bunch of 14 flowers... it gives a singular effect."
While anyone with even the most basic awareness of Van Gogh will know that he painted sunflowers, perhaps not everyone will know that he painted them several times and they were a central motif in his work.
In fact, the Dutch post-impressionist, who lived from 1853 to 1890, painted sunflowers several times during his time in Provence. The individual works have not been seen together for some time.
But now, at the National Gallery in London, a masterpiece has been reunited with its twin – for the first time in 65 years. The paintings are two of the five versions of Sunflowers that are now spread around the world (the others are in Tokyo, Munich and Philadelphia).
The National Gallery bought its Sunflowers direct from Van Gogh’s family in 1924, and has borrowed the other picture from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, giving art-lovers a unique opportunity to compare and contrast these two works side by side.
Alongside the works, there is new research showing how Van Gogh painted his Sunflowers and what materials he used.
Dr Nicholas Penny, National Gallery director, said: "This exhibition is designed to help those for whom the paintings by Van Gogh are compelling images to understand how they were made – and made again – and out of what materials. It will deepen every visitor’s appreciation of the artist.”
You should go and see them, because they will light up your day.
The Sunflowers runs at the National Gallery in London until 27 April 2014. It’s free.