The sunflowers were growing in a field in Arles, France, inviting Vincent van Gogh to pick them and paint them.
Which he did in 1888 and 1889. At least seven times.
Six of those now-famous paintings survive, five in public collections – including one belonging to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Alas for aficionados, those five publicly held Sunflowers are scattered over three continents and have never been seen together.
But Thursday morning, their isolation ended, so to speak, when a “virtual exhibition” reunited the Arles Sunflowers on Facebook in a single cyber-gallery – dubbed Sunflowers 360 — creating the illusion that they are hanging in a single space.
The National Gallery in London, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Neue Pinakothek in Munich, and the Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art in Tokyo are participants in the highly unusual internet collaboration.
On Monday at 12:50 p.m., Facebook will host live sequential 15-minute broadcasts from each of the institutions, with curators discussing their particular works. All of the broadcasts can be accessed from the Facebook page of each institution. London begins, followed by Amsterdam, Munich, Philadelphia (1:50-2:05 p.m., at www.facebook.com/philamuseum), and Tokyo.
“Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in Philadelphia is the only version to be found in the United States,” said Jennifer Thompson, the museum’s curator of European painting. “Together with the rest of the celebrated series, it tells a story both of greatness and poignancy.”
The cyber-gallery, deemed a fully immersive digital exhibition, allows visitors to explore the five paintings as if they were all together in a museum down the block. (No special headgear is needed, although Gear VR headsets can be employed to experience the gallery on Samsung smartphones.)
Willem van Gogh — great-grandson of van Gogh’s brother, Theo — is the “Sunflowers 360” gallery guide, sharing personal memories of the paintings.
“The virtual gallery and live stream now provide a novel way for art lovers, young and old, to admire these magnificent masterpieces from all corners of the globe,” van Gogh said in a statement.
The inspiration for the collaboration came from Britain, where the National Gallery’s Sunflowers display in 2014 reunited the London and Amsterdam versions of the painting for the first time in 65 years.
(For more information, visit www.facebook.com/philamuseum. Follow on Social Media: #SunflowersLive.)