In the depths of his despair and prolonged struggle with a “sadness” that he felt would “last forever,” Van Gogh could not have foreseen the global adoration for his life’s work. This anniversary year has seen devoted tributes in his native Netherlands—as well as England, France, and Belgium—for “Van Gogh 2015: 125 Years of Inspiration,” a campaign led by Van Gogh Brabant.
Of these tributes, the most visually stunning and labor-intensive can be found on the Museumplein outside the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, where volunteers have constructed a towering recreation of one of Van Gogh’s own self-portraits with 50,000 fresh dahlias. Each of the flowers was hand-picked from the gardens behind Van Gogh’s childhood home in Brabant, where he was surrounded by natural beauty from the earliest days of his life. Each bloom then took on a second life as a miniscule portion of a vibrant, color-by-numbers-style image of the artist. The enlargement looks to be modeled after Van Gogh’s 1887 ‘Self Portrait in a Grey Felt Hat’ in oil on canvas, the original of which is on display within the Van Gogh Museum itself.
Van Gogh painted dozens of self-portraits over the last years of his life in varying states of dress, but always with the same somber expression. Not even the works of his painter friends capture the artist with the slightest semblance of a smile. His anniversary portrait in flowers does not attempt to glamorize his image, but pays fitting tribute to a man who expressed his darkest emotions in vivid swaths of color.