Iconic artworks are loved by the public and critics alike. They are so familiar they have become ingrained in our culture, each one unique and seemingly irreplaceable.
But did you know that Van Gogh’s sunflowers aren’t as original as you think? That the Mona Lisa spent time in Napoleon’s bedroom and Munch’s Scream was inspired by a volcanic eruption. We delve into secrets hidden in famous paintings.
Vincent Van Gogh's Signature Sunflowers
You may have seen Van Gogh’s Sunflowers many times and may not have realised that they weren’t all the same painting. In total Vincent painted 12 different Sunflower oils on canvas.
He was inspired in two bursts. His first few sunflower paintings were made in Paris in 1886. Then, two years later, in the South of France, he was so desperate for his friend Paul Gauguin to visit his new home, a yellow house in Arles, that he decorated his studio with sunflowers. Gauguin loved it and subsequently came to stay.
Vincent only sold one painting in his lifetime, The Red Vineyard. In contrast, his popularity in modern times has continued to rise, one version of the Sunflowers has been bought for around $40m at auction.
Leonardo Da Vinci's Marvellous Mona Lisa
Painted in the early 1500s, the Mona Lisa has spent time in the bedroom of Napoleon, been stolen from the Louvre (in 1911) and is believed to contain another hidden portrait underneath its’ surface.
Mystery has always surrounded the owner of that enigmatic smile, but we do know ‘Mona’ means Madam in Italian and ‘Lisa’ is widely thought to be Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine silk merchant
Da Vinci’s masterpiece was ahead of its’ time as it was one of the first Renaissance portraits to show the subject in front of an imaginary landscape and a first example of an aerial landscape.
The insurance value of the Mona Lisa was estimated at $650 million in 2018.
Munch’s Mysterious Scream
The world’s most expensive painting, Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’, was originally titled ‘The Scream of Nature’. It was inspired by a single moment of fear felt by Munch as the sky turned flaming red during a walk by the Fjords in Oslo.
Some believe the red in the painting references the ‘Krakatoa Twilights’ - vivid red sunsets seen in Europe after an Indonesian volcanic eruption.
This makes sense when you read Munch’s own words: “It seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The colour shrieked. This became The Scream.”
Since it was painted, the world has taken the image to their hearts. Now seen as a more loveable and light-hearted reflection on a moment of anxiety - it even has its own emoji.
The Scream set an auction record in 2012 when it was sold for nearly $120 million.