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Debra N. Mancoff
Thames & Hudson
Publication Date: 

cloth, 112 p., $24.95

Sunflowers, produced in conjunction with the Art Institute of Chicago's exhibition "Van Gogh and Gauguin: Studio of the South," reveals the scope of the sunflower's cultural history. It is doubtful that any flower has undergone as many transformations in attitude over history as the sunflower. Big, bold and beautiful, it brings the sun's power into our lives and at the same time acts as a motif for designs on various objects and articles.

The author tells of the transformations of the sunflower spanning 5,000 years, from its use by native Americans for food and medicine through mythological associations to its Christian icongraphy, where the sunflower was associated with the rose and lily as analogous to the pious soul, reaching to the divine.

However, the sunflower was regarded simply as a natural decorative element in Dutch flower paintings in the 17th century. As sunflowers spread through European gardens and eventually became Russian cattle fodder, their status and appeal fell. In the 9th and 20th centuries, the sunflower experienced a revival as a decorative element in the Arts and Crafts movement and as a subject for painters. Vincent van Gogh's work became synonymous with this flower that he claimed "is mine in a way."

Sunflowers is an impressive and beautiful book.

— Adele Kleine, Master Gardener and Volunteer, Library, Chicago Botanic Garden