When I woke up to go to the Met with my brother over winter break, “Sunflower, Vol. 6” was buzzing in my ears. Harry Styles’ second solo album, Fine Line, had been released a few weeks earlier and the sunny, syrupy track had firmly stuck itself in my subconscious. That’s probably why Claude Monet’s “Bouquet of Sunflowers” caught my eye later that day. And looking at the painting, the song seemed to make a little more sense.
What is it about sunflowers that make them so inspiring? Monet’s painting, through the lens of “Sunflower, Vol. 6,” offers some hints.
Sunflowers’ most obvious alluring quality is how interesting they are to look at. “My eyes / want you more than the melody” is how Styles describes his draw. The yellowy-gold of sunflowers’ petals is captured in Monet’s painting, contrasted with reds and blues. Sunflowers pop. They invite you to admire them.
The flip side to this is that they’re mysterious. “Wish I could get to know you” Styles croons. Everyone knows what a sunflower looks like, but it’s unusual to find one in a garden or a vase. Maybe that’s why Monet’s depiction of many sunflowers bunched together feels so unruly. Sunflowers are bold — what might they be hiding?
My favorite line of “Sunflower, Vol. 6” is probably the most telling — “I don’t wanna make you feel bad / but I’ve been trying hard not to talk to you / my sunflower.” This points to sunflowers’ importance in terms of their metaphorical potential. I’d like to think that maybe Monet was trying to capture the essence of a person he knew in his painting, or a feeling he had. Something or someone that felt simultaneously playful and serious.
Monet’s painting and Styles’ song seem to point toward sunflowers representing an almost. They are full of life — they way their stems curve in every direction in “Bouquet of Flowers” suggests that they are strong-willed. They’re good company — Styles repeatedly asserts “I couldn’t want you anymore” to his “sunflower.” But something’s missing. I’d be remiss not to account for how sunflowers act in nature. Their movement literally follows the sun. Sunflowers are always wanting, always reaching, always trying to get a little closer to their source of warmth. To no end. The floral representation of love is already taken by roses, sunflowers get something a little more complicated — complete adoration.