A story emerged in several of the national papers this week regarding the degradation in colour of a number of Van Gogh’s works, including his famous Sunflowers, painted in the late 1880s. European scientists have discovered that a chemical reaction between sunlight, oil and the lead chromate-based yellow paint (which was mixed with white pigment to enhance its brightness) is causing the hue to darken over time to coffee brown.
What is regarded by many as a great loss to the art world, I believe has enhanced the beauty and preciousness of the work. It has become a living – and dying – piece of art, mirroring living sunflowers as they wither, brown and die.
Van Gogh completed over 2,000 works of art before ongoing depression and anxiety culminated in his suicide at the age of 37. His life was tragically brief but dazzling and there is a poetry in the fact that his sunflowers, which have brought brightness and joy to the human heart for centuries, are doomed to share the same fate.