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2 minutes to read Posted on Monday August 14, 2017

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Camille Tenneson

Camille Tenneson

Former Editorial & PR Officer , Europeana Foundation

Focus on Facebook #SunflowersLive: reuniting van Gogh's five Sunflowers on social media

The Van Gogh Museum and the Neue Pinakothek tell us about #SunflowersLive, a world first virtual exhibition 

In 1888/9, Van Gogh painted five versions of the Sunflowers in Arles, in the South of France. These world famous paintings are exhibited in five museums across three continents in London, in Amsterdam, Munich, Philadelphia and Tokyo. A global collaboration is bringing them together in a way the artist couldn’t have imagined, through 15-minute consecutive Facebook live broadcasts that will feel as if they were together in one room. At 6.50PM (CEST) on Monday 14 August, viewers will be able to interact with ‘Sunflowers 360’ on Gear VR or watch a 360 video on Facebook. The experience will be narrated by the great-grandson of Van Gogh’s brother Theo.

Antje Lange, from the digital communication department of the Neue Pinakothek in Munich and Jacob van der Vlugt, Social Media Strategist at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, talked to about their collaboration on this unique virtual gallery.

How was the idea for the #SunflowersLive collaboration born?

Jacob van der Vlugt, Van Gogh Museum: We were approached by the National Gallery in London, and we very much liked the idea. We got in touch with the social media managers of the other museums, and through them we were quickly able to get the museums into the project. We then contacted Facebook and asked them to support the initiative. They were very enthusiastic. They built it in a month, which apparently is the fastest VR experience built.

Antje Lange, Pinakothek: The general idea was to fulfill the dream of 2014 of bringing together all the Sunflowers in one place at the same time. In 2014, an exhibition in London reunited the London and the Amsterdam version of the painting for the first time in 65 years, but not the three other ones. Those are not allowed to travel because the thick paint is very fragile and could be destroyed when moved around.

Sunflowers, Van Gogh, Van Gogh Museum, CC-BY-NC-ND

What was the role of your respective museums in the project?

Jacob van der Vlugt: It was mainly a collaborative process, but the Van Gogh Museum was the main driver on the education and art history part. Our senior researchers and curators helped with the project so that we could use all their knowledge and expertise.

Antje Lange: The Pinakothek worked closely with colleagues from the other museums. To my knowledge. this is the first time that the digital departments from several international museums have worked together on such a large scale campaign. A once in a lifetime chance! The important part was to provide the material necessary to build the microsite, there were a lot of design decisions and arrangements to be done. As we are the smaller partner in terms of social media following, we followed the lead and tried to keep the pace.

Why make the painting available outside of the museum?

Jacob van der Vlugt: The museum in Amsterdam has a record number of visitors. Van Gogh is probably one of the most popular artists, and we are always full of visitors. People all over the world have visited the museum or might come one day. Everyone knows the painting, but not many people know that there are five versions across three continents. Through this innovative approach, people will get the opportunity to learn more about a very universal piece. A lot of museums are digitizing their collections, but bringing together paintings from different galeries probably never happened before.

Sunflowers, Van Gogh, Pinakothek, CC BY-SA 4.0

Which audiences are you trying to reach?

Antje Lange: Of course we hope to gain new followers on our social channels and make enough digital noise to get some attention. It would be nice to gain more international followers and make the Pinakotheken better known outside of Germany. We have a great collection and there are still a lot of art lovers who don't know us as well as they probably should. I hope the viewers of #SunflowersLive will enjoy the journey around the world to the five Sunflowers, and learn a thing or two about Vincent van Gogh on the way.

Are you working on other similar projects?

Jacob van der Vlugt: We have been doing a lot of live guided tours in the past and we will be doing more in the future. We will host a Symposium workshop in November about Facebook guided tours. We also have a new digital team who is very ambitious, and has plans to develop further on social media.

Antje Lange: We are currently planning a new exhibition app and testing ways to use augmented reality systems in our galleries. I really hope that this is just the beginning of a new form of collaboration for museums. There are so many wonderful ways of working together, of joining our different collections, using new technologies. To promote and connect artworks is our common task and there shouldn’t be any borders for that kind of thing. The digital revolution makes those changes possible, we just have to make it happen. But there is still a long way to go. #SunflowersLive can be a first big step in the right direction.

More paintings by Van Gogh are available on Europeana Art.

Self-portrait, Van Gogh, Rijksmuseum, Public Domain

Self-portrait, Van Gogh, Rijksmuseum, Public Domain

by Camille Tenneson