This is an unusual flower still life. Here, Van Gogh does not paint fresh flowers in a vase or pot, no arranged bouquet of different flowers, no entourage and no background; just a few cut sunflowers gone to seed. The flowers are painted life-sized and fill the entire canvas.
In Paris, Van Gogh frequently paints flower still lifes to practice his use of colour. In 1886, he writes to a friend: ‘I have made a series of colour studies in painting simply flowers (…) seeking oppositions of blue with orange, red and green, yellow and violet, seeking the broken and neutral tones to harmonise brutal extremes. Trying to render intense colour and not a grey harmony’.
In this painting, he finds what he sought: warm and cold colours in contrasting tones. The combination of these with the swirling brushstrokes in all directions, but also the strange, undefinable space in which the sunflowers are placed, make this painting one of the highpoints of his Parisian period.