In 1928, Still Life With Meadow Flowers and Roses was included in a comprehensive catalog of Van Gogh's work. However, because of its unusually large size for a work of Van Gogh, and the unusual upper right placement of the signature, as well as the style of some of the letters in the signature, in 2003 it was decided the painting could not be attributed to Van Gogh. The Kröller-Müller Museum in the Netherlands, which holds the artwork, changed the attribution to “Anonymous.” Ten years later scientists and art curators from the museum decided to take another look at the painting.
Using advanced research techniques, they discovered that Still Life with Meadow Flowers and Roses had been painted over a painting of two wrestlers. Van Gogh had done a painting of wrestlers as a prerequisite to attend the Academy at Antwerp and wrote about the subject and size of the work in a letter to his brother. The subject and the canvas size were what the Academy had requested, which explains Van Gogh had done a painting that was for him oddly sized. Van Gogh frequently reused canvases, which were expensive, so finding another painting that is most certainly Van Gogh's under Still Life with Meadow Flowers and Roses only further confirms that this is indeed a Van Gogh. When he painted overused canvases, he rarely removed the earlier composition; he would simply paint again over a previous piece, regardless of how thick the old paint was. Also, the time this was painted is the exact period— springtime 1886 to early1887--that Van Gogh, having not been admitted into the Academy in Antwerp, was in Paris. During this time he explored a theme, painting dozens of floral still lifes. This exact collection of flowers--cornflowers, forget-me-nots, poppies, and roses--Van Gogh described in another letter.
The composition is lush, the upper portion composed of flowers that were blooming in June in Paris. Red poppies take center stage, surrounded by blue cornflowers and white daisies. A halo of more lightly painted flowers add variety and give the painting dimension. Pink roses, their horizontal green stems contrast with the vertical sides of the vase. In addition to the flowers, Van Gogh mentioned in his letter, larkspur, chamomile, calendula, chrysanthemums, asters, and hydrangea are also found. Vermillion fantastical flowers, as well as vermillion touches later added to the poppies tie the composition together.
Experts tell us that the painting was done in stages, with the vase and flowers done first. This left a great deal of space at the bottom of the canvas, which Van Gogh filled with more flowers later. The lower part of the canvas is filled in with blooms that would have come later in the summer. This sort of composition became a regular practice for Van Gogh: flowers found in nature in a vase, with additional more imaginative flowers added later.
Van Gogh exhibited some of his flower compositions in 1887 in the cafe le Tambourin, which belonged to his current girlfriend, Augustina Segatori. Shortly later she suffered from financial difficulties and sold the cafe, including all the artwork contained therein, probably including Still life with meadow flowers and roses.
Painted in 1886, when Van Gogh's was in Paris when he lived with his art-dealer brother, this painting was one of at least 40 floral still-lifes Van Gogh's produced during this time. Arrangements like this were familiar to Van Gogh from the work of George Jeannine, an artist represented by his brother. It's likely that Van Gogh was inspired by Jeannine's work, which was often done at this size. Van Gogh completed many works during this period, searching to find his individual style. Therefore the many works done at the time vary stylistically regarding color use and application of paint.
Attribution has been confidently reinstated for Still Life with Meadow Flowers and Roses. The collection of evidence confirms that Van Gogh indeed created this exuberant painting himself.
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