The Secret Life of Sunflowers

sunflowers painted by van-gogh

Summer Sunflowers Van Gogh is a mixed media image by David Pyatt.

On Monday I bought two sunflowers at the market and planted them in a pot outside our house. Everyone who passes sees their smiling yellow faces and smiles back. Sunflowers know the secret of life is to follow the sun.

Image shows two sunflowers that I planted in a pot

My sunflowers

The Sun God Apollo once fell in love with a water nymph named Clytie. When his head was turned by a rival nymph, he changed Clytie into a sunflower whose head always turned to the sun. I am not sure how the Greek myth came into being as the sunflower is native to North America, but mythology like religion is only a metaphor.

Sunflowers began life as big messy bushes. The Indians 4,500 years ago started cultivating them to produce a single-stemmed plant with male stamen (androecium) around the edges and the feminine carpel (gynoecium) at the centre. The androgynous sunflower self-pollinates and provides us with a yearly supply of seeds and unsaturated oil.

Sunflower Heliotropes

Flowers turning their heads to the sun is called heliotropism. They all do it, people too, but sunflowers with their emoji faces and corona of bright yellow petals create what the Italians call a bella figura, a fireworks display of colour and light. Keep a sunflower on your windowsill and you will never be sad.

The sunflower is Ukraine’s national flower. They can be seen in great murmuring fields across the countryside and have always been a symbol of peace.

Vincent van Gogh once wrote to his brother: ‘I am working with the enthusiasm of a man from Marseilles eating bouillabaisse, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to you because I am busy painting huge sunflowers.’

image shows Vincent van Gogh's painting of a vase of sunflowers

Van Gogh’s sunflowers

Poor Vincent. The artist’s artist. The artist who cut off his ear after a bad-tempered row with his friend Paul Gauguin. The artist who never sold a painting in his lifetime and watched philosophically from his place in heaven as one of his sunflower paintings sold at auction in London in 1985 for $39.85 million.

When I visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and saw Vincent’s bold, sunny sunflowers in creamy whirls of paint it brought both tears to my eyes and a smile to my lips. I understood van Gogh’s joy and pain and it made me feel renewed, creative, born again. He knew he was on the right path, ahead of his time, and didn’t care what the critics said or that the art buyers ignored his work.

I rather enjoyed Vincent’s reference to the man from Marseilles and can imagine nothing more glorious than sitting down to a plate bouillabaisse with a glass of red wine (not white), a view of the Mediterranean and a vase of freshly cut sunflowers.

Some Sunflower Facts

🌻 Sunflowers bloom during summer and follow the sun into autumn.

🌻 Each sunflower is actually thousands of teeny flowers.

🌻 Each sunflower produces up to 2,000 seeds.  

🌻 There are seventy species of sunflowers. 

🌻 The tallest sunflower on record was over thirty feet tall.  

If all your dreams have broken and gone, if you feel isolated in your own private world, go out this minute and buy a sunflower. Place it on a sunny shelf, give it a little water every day – not too much – and as its big yellow face turns to the sun you will feel your lips lift in a smile knowing that you have learned the secret life of sunflowers.

See My Images and mixed media by David Pyatt


Dali book cover illustrated The Secret Life of Sunflowers

While you are here, for some reason my book Sex, Surrealism, Dali and Me is free on Amazon Prime UK, US, Spain etc. Also in hardback, paperback and audio.

Last Amazon 5***** review by Natasha Gray: “Anyone who has not read Sex, Surrealism, Dali and Me is in for a delicious treat. Clifford Thurlow’s dual biographies of Salvador Dali and his long-term muse, Carlos Lozano, the Colombian dancer, is a magical journey through a dream landscape lit by the surreal and the sublime.

“This unique, bittersweet memoir reads like a novel and is filled with beautiful phrases you want to underline: Belief is a self-fulfilling prophecy; Artists often feel sad without knowing why; The secret of success isn’t knowing what you want, it is knowing what you don’t want.” Click here.


Posted in Blog.


  1. Entertaining thoughtful and beautifully written, piece, Clifford. We expect nothing less, I know, but it’s worth recording here how much you are appreciated.

  2. Dear Percy Thrower
    Vincent actually cut off his ear LOBE during a drunken/manic episode — and in fact had sold a painting whilst still alive and was on the verge of a commercial breakthrough (thanks to Theo – his brother).

  3. All very true, but ruins the joke about vag Gough being in a pub when one of his mates walks in and says: Fancy a drink, Vince? And he replies, No, thanks, I’ve got one ear.

  4. Happy, uplifting and interesting blog. Lovely piece of writing. The Van Gogh interactive show is on in London for those that want to immerse themselves completely in his work.

  5. Your description of Heliotropism, for some reason, brings to mind Triffids. Of course, these alien invaders, brought here by a meteor and which grow out of the ground like sunflowers, didn’t turn their heads toward the sun, but towards sound. So you need to remember to be very quiet if you have Triffids in your garden. That is unless you want to end up with Vincent, watching philosophically while your books sell more copies than Harry Potter.

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