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MYSTERY OF THE LOST VAN GOGH

SIX SUNFLOWERS
(1888)

Destroyed in the bombardment of Ashiya during World War II

Ukiyo-e, Japanese art printed on paper

VAN GOGH IN PROVENCE

Vincent van Gogh is one of the most famous artists of all time. His works are recognized all over the world, and his tormented life is an integral part of his notoriety.

In late 1880 van Gogh was obsessed by Japan and the japanese Ukiyo-e art.His greatest desire was to paint like a Japanese artist, to live like a Japanese monk and to work in a typical Japanese landscape. He found “his Japan” in Provence, or to be exact, in Arles. Thanks to the help from his brother and patron Theo who supported his work throughout his life, he arrived in the south of France. Van Gogh starts a period of vitality and optimism that is reflected in his artistic work. His palette became increasingly bright as he captured the sun and the southern light through an intense study of the color he loved most: yellow.

Vincent wrote to his brother Theo in one of his daily exchanges: “The light from the sun, in want of a better word can only be defined as yellow. Pale, sulfurous lemon or golden yellow. Yellow is beautiful!”

Ukiyo-e, Japanese art printed on paper
Vincent Van Gogh, Fifteen Sunflowers (1888)
Vincent Van Gogh, Twelve Sunflowers (1888)

In spring of 1888 van Gogh worked intensively creating the “Sunflowers” series, a cycle of paintings designed to decorate the room of his artist friend Paul Gauguin, invited by van Gogh to Arles with the intent to found an artistic community in his yellow house.

One of the paintings produced was the “Six Sunflowers“, it stood out from the others for its intense, radiant blue background which clashed with the lively touches of yellow. Van Gogh, using an impasto technique, applied color in rough dense brushstrokes, often layered over each other, scratching the fresh surface with the handle of the brush.In the series there is an approach to painting that is almost sculptural where the thick impasto color creates light and shade, not just through its pigments, but even through the three-dimensionality of the brushstrokes. The result is of an expressive effect never seen before. His almost maniacal approach to art is the key to his works, where, even to this day, all the extraordinary intensity of his vision of the world can still be seen.

Vincent Van Gogh, Fifteen Sunflowers (1888)
Vincent Van Gogh, Twelve Sunflowers (1888)
Julian Bell, Painter
Paul Gauguin, Self-portrait with portrait of Émile Bernard, Les miserables (1888)
Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh Painting Sunflowers (1888)

On his arrival, Gauguin was stunned by this series of paintings. For a short period, they worked side by side, painting the same subjects and influencing one another. However, the relationship between the pair began to crack; owing to van Gogh’s tormented and paranoid character. After discovering that his brother Theo was soon to be married and strongly suspecting that Gauguin wanted to leave, he felt abandoned and exploded in an act of madness that led him to cut off his ear lobe, forcing Gauguin to distance himself.

Today almost all the paintings from the “Sunflowers” series are displayed in the most important galleries in the world, except for two.One is property of a private American collector, while the other, that was in Japan, was destroyed during the bombardments of the Second World War, and is now lost forever.

Paul Gauguin, Self-portrait with portrait of Émile Bernard, Les miserables (1888)
Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh Painting Sunflowers (1888)
Old prints and photographs belonging to Koyata Yamamoto's heirs
Koyata Yamamoto with the writer Saneatsu Mushanokōji

THE BOMBARDMENT OF A MASTERPIECE

Japan 1945. During the terrifying yet conclusive days of the Second World War, alongside the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japanese cities were thrown into turmoil by violent air raids that sowed death and destruction.

In the Ashiya Nishnomiya region alone, the area where Koyata Yamamoto, owner of van Gogh’s “Six Sunflowers“, lived, a hailstorm of over 2000 bombs was dropped. Although Yamamoto made every effort to try and protect the masterpiece by sending it to be safeguarded in a bank, those last days of war sealed the fate of van Gogh’s “Six Sunflowers“. All that was left of the city of Ashiya was a sea of ashes. Here the second piece of the series painted by van Gogh in those happy days in Arles met its end.

Old prints and photographs belonging to Koyata Yamamoto's heirs
Koyata Yamamoto with the writer Saneatsu Mushanokōji
Takashi Mizuno, Survivor of the Ashiya bombing
Detail of the digital recreation process of the 3D surface, curated by Factum Arte
Detail of the digital recreation process of the 3D surface, curated by Factum Arte
Digital recreation of the 3D surface, curated by Factum Arte

THE RE-FLOWERING OF THE SUNFLOWERS

For the re-materialization of the “Six Sunflowers“ by van Gogh, the Factum Arte team undertook an innovative process that allowed them to bring the lost masterpiece back to life.A technique that exclusively uses data taken from the other paintings in the series exhibited in some of the most important galleries worldwide.

The process of re-materialization started with a precise process of selection that permitted a digital modeling specialist to recreate the distinctive features of the surface.
The first step was to paint a paste of wax and acrylic over a life-sized printed image of the work, to manually recreate the general shape and position of van Gogh’s brushstrokes.
Later, this version in white acrylic was scanned using the special Lucida 3D scanner created by Factum Arte, which can record the contours of an object with the precision of up to 100 microns. The same process was then used on another panting from the “Sunflowers” series preserved by the National Gallery of London.

The data acquired was then imported into 3D modeling software and processed onto the 3D model of the acrylic version, which was used as the base for the re-materialization.
Taking the brushstrokes model from the acrylic version, the technical team cut out similar brushstrokes captured by the 3D scanner from the National Gallery painting and then pasted them to the acrylic version, retouching them slightly through adaptions and small distortions

Detail of the digital recreation process of the 3D surface, curated by Factum Arte
Detail of the digital recreation process of the 3D surface, curated by Factum Arte
Digital recreation of the 3D surface, curated by Factum Arte
Irene Gaume, 3D Modelling and Director Adam Lowe, Factum Arte
Intermediate versions of the painting during the re-creation process
One of the experts at Factum Arte is making color tests
One of the experts at Factum Arte is making color tests

To reconstruct the colors of the work, the team took a panoramic photograph of the “Sunflowers” preserved in London, thus capturing the colors in high-resolution through several images that are then united using a specific software called PTGui.

At the same time, to solve the problem of the different tonal range between the works, van Gogh’s color palette was studied. They analyzed high-resolution images of other paintings from the series and compared color samples with the different van Goghs kept in the various museums around the world. Finally, using the color image of the lost painting as a reference, a range of colors was reconstructed for the re-materialization.

Intermediate versions of the painting during the re-creation process
One of the experts at Factum Arte is making color tests
One of the experts at Factum Arte is making color tests
Jordi García Pons, Artist and Painter, Factum Arte
 Intermediate versions of the painting during the re-creation process
Different versions of the painting during the re-creation process
One of the semi-final version of the painting during the re-creation process

With all the data at their fingertips, the meticulous job of reconstruction began. Looking at the high-resolution of the painting preserved in London, there were some brushstrokes that seemed to coincide with those from the low-resolution image that Factum Arte used as starting point. Once these were identified, they were cut out, tonally adapted to the desired color range and pasted into the image, distorting them slightly to fit them to the “Six Sunflowers“.

Once completed, the pictorial texture was reproduced in a silicon mold created thanks to a 3D printer made with OCE technology. Subsequently, a cast in gesso was created and made to adhere perfectly to a linen canvas on which the image was printed using to a special printer created by the Factum Arte team, which makes the perfect alignment between texture with the color possible. Finally, the painting was retouched by hand in a few specific areas and finished with a matte varnish in an initial version and with a glossier varnish in a second version.

 Intermediate versions of the painting during the re-creation process
Different versions of the painting during the re-creation process
One of the semi-final version of the painting during the re-creation process

RECREATION OF
SIX SUNFLOWERS

Digital Recreation of Vincent van Gogh’s “Six Sunflowers“ (1888)
2017 Pigment and gesso on canvas
Recreation by Factum Arte