Van Gogh’s Sunflower Paintings

Vincent Van Gogh loved the color yellow. When he moved to Arles in southern France, he painted his house yellow and decorated it with his many sunflower paintings. He wanted the house to become a studio center for artists, but like many other things in this troubled artist’s life, it was a disappointment.

The Yellow House, 1888, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, public domain

Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime, but today his paintings sell for millions and brighten the walls of major museums all over the world. Amsterdam, in Van Gogh’s home country of the Netherlands, has a state museum dedicated to Van Gogh’s works, and his paintings are among the most recognized and loved everywhere.

The post includes:

  • A short bio of Vincent van Gogh
  • Information about the painting, Sunflowers
  • Activities to help you and your children enjoy and understand the painting, Sunflowers

The Artist

Born in the Netherlands in 1853, Vincent loved art and literature. At 16 he went to work for an uncle who was an art dealer. While in the London office he fell in love, but his proposal was rejected, and Vincent sank into a time of sorrow.

After a short time in the Paris office and a time working among poor coal miners, Vincent decided he could better serve people through art and returned to Paris in 1886. There he discovered the Impressionists and the works of Seurat, and his paintings changed from dark to bright colors. He moved to southern France for the rest of his short life.

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In Arles, he found the landscapes and people he wanted to paint, and he often painted all day and night without stopping to eat. He stuck candles onto the brim of his hat so he could paint at night.

Vincent began alternating between depression and periods of hyperactivity, but he continued painting even during times in hospitals. In those last years he produced an amazing 800 paintings, sometimes, one a day, and as many drawings. In 1890 Vincent, feeling like a failure and a financial burden on his brother, took his own life.

The Paintings–first a little about Van Gogh’s painting style

Portraits: In many ways, Van Gogh’s work followed in the footsteps of an earlier great Dutch artist, Rembrandt. Like Rembrandt, Van Gogh painted many portraits of the ordinary people of Arles,

Portrait of the Postman, Joseph Roulin, 1888, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, public domain

Van Gogh painted 40 self-portraits, almost as many as Rembrandt. Also like Rembrandt, van Gogh wanted to show what was going on inside people and once said, “I prefer painting people’s eyes to cathedrals.”

Landscapes: Van Gogh painted landscapes that show his swirling brushstrokes, bright colors, lots of movement. Like Rembrandt, van Gogh used thick impasto paint that creates textures. Van Gogh wanted his landscapes to show the healing power of nature.

Wheat field with Cypresses, 1889, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, public domain

Now the Sunflowers!

Still Lifes: Van Gogh probably grew up seeing many still lifes, as these were a big part of Dutch art. He enjoyed painting flowers, in gardens and in vases. Even these still lifes vibrate with color and the textures of thick paint.

Still Life Vase with Twelve Sunflowers 1888, Vincent van Gogh, Neue Pinakothek , Munich, public domain

Sunflowers, 1889, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, public domain

Activities to Help You and Your Children further Explore this Beautiful Paintings

Before doing any other activities, ask children to tell what’s going on in the painting and what tells them that. Enhance their observational and verbal skills by rephrasing words and adding new vocabulary. Look for details, such as:

  • Does it look like a photo or is it fuzzy?
  • Could the subject be real or not?
  • How does it make you feel?

1.You might compare and contrast these 2 versions of van Gogh’s sunflowers.

 2.The Sunflower paintings (there are several versions)  are great for discussing color and texture with children:

Color: Van Gogh loved the bright sunshine and colors of southern France.  With your children look at a few portable colorful objects (such as apples, toys, flowers, fall leaves) inside, then take them outside to look at how the colors intensify in sunlight. Take them into the shade and see how the colors change again.

The Impressionists studied the effects of sunlight on color, and Monet, discovered that when he went to the south of France, the sun was so much brighter, he had to adjust his colors to reproduce what he saw. The American, Winslow Homer, who painted his northern seascapes in oils, had to switch to watercolors to show the bright tropical sunlight of the Caribbean.

Textures: Van Gogh used thick paint that shows the textures of how things might feel if we touch them. Send children on an indoor and outdoor scavenger hunt to find different textures and then use adjectives to describe the textures.

Before You Go

Here are some fall photos of Molly with sunflowers and among the yellows and reds of my fall garden.

Molly and I  want to share some good news with you , which also explains why this post was a little late. We apologize! But here’s the good news. In September, I was honored to sign with the Steve Laube Agency, a great Christian literary agency.

And I was a guest on Patti Shene’s Step into the Light podcast, sharing my testimony and and why I love teaching art! Here’s the link.  

It was so much fun!





If you’d like more activity ideas for art, history, and nature, curriculum connections, and links to more resources, be sure to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free guide to making art museum visits a fun masterpiece for you whole family!

Visit my website where you’ll find free downloadable puzzles, how-to-draw pages and coloring pages for kids and an updated list of my hands-on workshops, chapels, and presentations for all ages.

Molly and I hope you enjoyed learning a little more about Van Gogh and his art, and we hope to see you right back here soon for some devotional thoughts based on Van Gogh’s Sunflower paintings.



12 thoughts on “Van Gogh’s Sunflower Paintings

  1. JD Wininger

    I love how you are so willing to share your knowledge and inspire us Ms. Kathy. You make learning and serving God fun my friend.


  2. Becky Van Vleet

    I love the Van Gogh paintings. I never knew he had a yellow house. So happy about your news with the Steve Laube agency! 🙂


    1. Kathy The Picture Lady Post author

      Thank you, Becky! I’m still amazed and thankful and rejoicing with you and your good news, too–about your MG book about WWII! That’s so great! I’m glad you enjoyed these paintinga by van Gogh, such an innovative artist!


  3. Katherine Pasour

    Your post on Van Gogh is so interesting and informative. It is sad how some of history’s most talented artists led tragic lives. He produced so much amazing artwork, yet never lived to know how much joy his work brought to others. Thank you for sharing the sunflowers. They are one of my favorite flowers.


    1. Kathy The Picture Lady Post author

      Van Gogh’s life is a sad one, but I like to think that he may have found some joy in painting his bright landscapes and in-depth portraits! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Your recent post with the wheat field photo would have been something van Gogh liked!


  4. Jeanne Takenaka

    Kathy, I so appreciated the insights you’ve shared into Vincent VanGogh’s life and paintings. I didn’t use to care for them, but the more I’ve seen them as I’ve grown older, the more deeply I’ve come to like and appreciate them. He seems like he would have been a fascinating man.



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