Press Release  August 26, 2017

The National Gallery: Five masterpieces on three continents united for the first time ever on Facebook

In 1888/9 in Arles in the South of France, Vincent van Gogh painted several versions of one of the most famous paintings ever made – his 'Sunflowers'.

Today five 'Sunflowers' paintings are located in museums across the globe and have never been united. Until now that is. On 14 August 2017, in a world first, all those 'Sunflowers' will come together in a ‘virtual exhibition’ bringing the paintings together in a way the artist could never have imagined.

Over 95 minutes on that evening, the National Gallery (London), Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam), Philadelphia Museum of Art, Neue Pinakothek (Munich) and the Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art (Tokyo) will link up in a unique and unprecedented global collaboration to explore the 'Sunflowers' series, live on Facebook.

Starting at 5.50pm (UK time) in London, there will be a consecutive relay of five, 15-minute Facebook Live broadcasts. Each will take place in front of a different 'Sunflowers' painting, all will celebrate and explore Vincent van Gogh’s life and work.

This is the first time ever there has been a live Facebook ‘relay’ of this type between different institutions worldwide.

To further unite the paintings, and in such a way that would be totally impossible in the physical space of a gallery, the five galleries have worked with Facebook to create a fully immersive digital exhibition, Sunflowers 360.

Using a combination of VR technology and CGI to create an experience that will look and feel as if the five paintings were actually together in one room, viewers can interact with Sunflowers 360 on Gear VR or view as a 360 video on Facebook. Entering the gallery in VR, people can rotate around a 360 degree environment to view each of the paintings, or go on a guided tour of each painting. Willem van Gogh – the great-grandson of Van Gogh’s brother Theo – narrates the experience, sharing personal memories of the paintings. Sunflowers 360 is released today (10 August 2017) on the Facebook pages of each museum and through the Oculus store.

The inspiration for this world first collaboration came from the UK, where the National Gallery’s highly successful 'Sunflowers' display in 2014 reunited the London and Amsterdam versions of the painting for the first time in 65 years.

National Gallery Director Dr Gabriele Finaldi says:

“We launched our first Facebook Live a year ago and they've been growing in popularity ever since, so we are delighted to be teaming up with galleries all over the world and Facebook for the first ever live relay focusing on Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’. This collaboration is a key step in the National Gallery’s Digital Strategy, which will see us fully explore the potential of immersive media to create new ways of experiencing art.”

Glenn Miller, Strategic Partner Manager for Facebook, said:

“This iconic series of paintings have been experienced as individual pieces of art around the world. By creating this immersive experience we can now bring these masterpieces together, inspiring and bringing enjoyment to new and existing fans, no matter where they are in the world.”

Willem van Gogh said:

“Rather like the ‘Mona Lisa’ and ‘The Night Watch’, Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ are works of art that continue to intrigue and inspire, perhaps into eternity. Indeed, each generation forges a fresh, highly personal bind with them. 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. I think this is fantastic!”

At the National Gallery, London, the tour of Room 43 – where 'Sunflowers' hangs - will be hosted by Christopher Riopelle, Curator of Post 1800 Paintings. He says:

“The excitement we saw three years ago when the London and Amsterdam ‘Sunflowers’ were shown together, especially among young visitors to the National Gallery, convinced us that there is a deep curiosity on the part of the public and scholars alike to understand how this famous series came into being, what the pictures meant to Vincent, and what they mean to us today.”

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