There are some art pairs that any art lover would die to see, these coupling often appear in academic art articles and on art enthusiastic blogs but they are very very rare in life.
The most recent I can remember were the two versions of Virgin on the Rocks coming together at the National Gallery Da Vinci show in 2011-2012, and Manet’s Olympia coupling up with Titian’s Venus of Urbino in Venice in 2013. It seems that 2014 will be marked by two of the four Van Gogh’s Sunflowers meeting in London.
I knew that the Sunflowers united for the first time in 65 years would draw attention but for some reason when I came up to the National Gallery I thought that people were queuing for a different reason so with smug self satisfaction i went in through the empty ground entrance. A few minutes later I realised my mistake and had to walk all the way around the gallery to join the growing queue, thats my tortoise and the hare lesson learnt. Despite appearing long the queue went surprisingly fast and 20 minutes later I was handed to bright orange token that granted me entrance into Room 46.
The Sunflowers are the only two paintings in the dramatically darkened room, and from the entrance they look like two blobs of gold, and the viewers standing in front of them appear to be watching a tennis match because their heads keep moving form left to right to left. I think everyone spends their first few minutes with the flowers trying to count how many differences can they spot. I also tried to guess which of the two is the 1889 from London and which the 1888 from Amsterdam – I guessed wrong. The sunflowers take up one of the walls, the other three have explanatory texts, that provides a good yet not an overwhelming context for the two paintings.
It is a very good show, it reminds of a good, clear, and brief art history essay, it introduces the images and provides you with the recent research. It does not exhaust you and it does not overload you with images and information. And to tell the truth in the world of short attention spans and abbreviations, where even a tweet is often seen as too long to read a two image show is just perfect.
The Sunflowers at the National Gallery runs until27 April
About the writer: Jenny Judova is freelance art critic, and currently runs the project Art Map London (www.artmaplondon.co.uk) a listing website for private views and gallery events.