'Sunflower' Brooch

Additional Information

The sunflower is associated with adoration and marital fidelity because it exhibited ‘heliotropism’, devotedly following the course of the sun across the sky. The Greeks believed that the water nymph Clytie fell in love with the sun god Helio; for a time, the love was reciprocated, but when he tired of her the forlorn Clytie sat day after day slowly turning her head to watch Helio move across the sky in his chariot. The gods eventually took pity on the love-sick girl, turning her into a brilliant flower, always following the path of the sun. ¹


Their sunny disposition and simplicity made them an inspirational subject for the artist Vincent van Gogh at different times during his life. He painted them when he first arrived in Paris, where they grew on the slopes of Montmartre, as well as in his final canvas in 1890. He also began a series of sunflower paintings while waiting for his friend Paul Gauguin to arrive in Arles to share his studio, believing that the canvases would brighten up his companion’s room.

The symbolic connections of the sunflower with warmth, and its bold yellow colour and shape, which lent itself easily to stylisation, made it the emblem of choice for the nineteenth-century Aesthetic Movement, whose exponents included Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris and James McNeill Whistler. This coterie of artists friends and poets was dedicated to the ‘cult of beauty, sharing a modern set of ideas that challenged existing concepts of art. Their taste for intense colours, exotic subjects and vibrant naturalistic motifs such as the sunflower caught the public attention. Oscar Wilde, as a disciple of the movement, frequently carried or wore a sunflower. ¹

Her gold hair fell on the wall of gold

Like the delicate gossamer tangle spun

On the burnished disk of the marigold,

Or the sun-flower turning to meet the sun

(In the Gold Room: A Harmony, by Oscar Wilde, 1881).


¹. Floral Jewels, from the World’s Leading Designers, by Carol Wooton, 2014, Prestel.

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