A virtual exhibition: Van Gogh’s sunflowers reunited

15th August 2017

On August 14th at London’s National Gallery, Van Gogh’s iconic Sunflower paintings were reunited virtually, in a new type of exhibition. Despite each of the five paintings being spread out across the continents of the globe, for one evening, the were exhibited together via Facebook Live. 

In real life, it is unlikely that the paintings will ever exhibit in the same room, due to their fragility, value and reluctance for galleries to loan the pieces elsewhere. The next best thing, many would argue, would be for them to be virtually exhibited, in an experience the gallery’s deputy director has described as “absolutely unbeatably exciting”.

For art enthusiasts the world over, the Facebook Live video was the only opportunity they will get to see the works of art together. 

Currently, the paintings are situated in locations as varied as the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art, Tokyo; Neue Pinakothek in Munich; and the National Gallery in London. 

During the virtual exhibition, expert curators gave a 15-minute tour of each work before handing over to the next gallery. As reported by the Telegraph, Van Gogh expert Martin Bailey explained that the paintings have never been seen together since they left Van Gogh’s family. 

While he was alive, Van Gogh was unable to sell any of the Sunflower paintings and therefore passed them to his brother and wife. During 1891 to 1924 four of the paintings were sold off, with only one remaining in the family. This is now on display at the Van Gogh Museum. 

Mr Bailey, who is also the author of The Sunflowers are Mine: The Story of Van Gogh’s Masterpiece, commented: “The five Sunflowers in the Facebook presentation have never been exhibited together - and they never will. There are two reasons.

“First, they are fragile works, and for conservation reasons they either cannot travel at all or are only allowed to in very exceptional circumstances. Secondly, they are probably the most popular paintings in all the galleries that own them, so the owning institutions are very reluctant to allow them to leave.”

The initiative was coordinated by the National Gallery and is believed to be inspired by a blockbuster exhibition in 2014 when the Van Gogh Museum loaned its Sunflowers, which proved to be extremely popular. 

Because of this, the National Gallery launched the project to reunite the paintings virtually. In addition to the Facebook Live video, the London Gallery is hosting a virtual reality version of the gallery where online visitors can see the paintings hanging together in one room. 

Susan Foister, deputy director of the National Gallery, commented: “To get them all together physically would be pretty challenging and might take quite a long time.

“The fact that you can actually bring them together digitally was a solution that really appealed to us, particularly just now with all the experimenting we’ve started to do with Facebook and virtual reality.”

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