“I think the Van Gogh Museum was quite shocked when I first proposed the idea of touring shopping malls with the Van Gogh Museum Edition Relievos,” laughs Diedrick van Eck, CEO of Tribute International that is distributing the high-quality replicas of nine Van Gogh paintings.
After all, in an 1882 letter to his brother Theo, post-Impressionist painter, Vincent wrote about making “prints for the people” – that it would be “useful and needful” to make Dutch drawings available for “workers’ dwellings, farmhouses… every working man,” – the masses. And where do the masses congregate in the 21st Century? In shopping malls, of course.
At Edmonton’s Southgate Centre, the tour’s other Canadian stop, nearly 17,000 people visited the Van Gogh Pop-up Gallery. It recently opened in the tony Oakridge Centre in Vancouver until March 27th. Willem Van Gogh, the painter’s great, great nephew (van Gogh had no children,) is touring with the Exhibition. Although growing up he wanted to pursue a different career as a lawyer, about sixteen years ago the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam asked him to become its ambassador.
“As the eldest grandson I had a very good relationship with my grandfather, who was Vincent’s nephew,” he related to the fascinated crowd opening night in Vancouver. “We had many holidays at his home and I remember very well the house decorated with Vincent’s paintings and the Almond Blossom painting hanging in the living room. The painting then also hung in the bedroom of my father, so this painting is always very special and very familiar to me.”
They are remarkable in their vividness of color, thick 3-dimensional impasto brushstrokes and cross-hatching – even the indentation of Vincent’s thumb-print as van Eck points out with a flourish, as we tour through the Pop-Up gallery. People who are visually impaired are invited to touch the paintings.
Don’t confuse these reproductions with tchatchkas like fridge magnets, coffee mugs and umbrellas, printed with Van Gogh’s art.
Using a patented process developed by Fujifilm Belgium, the Museum and Fuji created 3D Reliefography reproductions of nine paintings. “When the first result came out, we were astounded. Because literally viewed with the naked eye, you cannot see any difference,” assures van Eck, “They’re so real.”
The intricate process began in the museum’s basement where glass and frames protecting the works were removed. The technique is a combination of a three-dimensional laser scan of the painting, digital imaging and state-of-the-art high-resolution printing. A type of very soft cloth described as feeling both like rubber and silk, was applied, taking in the relief of the original painting. After seven hours of delicate work, a wide negative was produced. The original, unharmed, was rehung in the Museum and the cloth was sent to Fuji’s laboratory in Belgium. Then, with the exact measurement of the relief, two color matchers got to work, with the colors projected into the relief. From this mold, 260 Relievos for each painting, were produced using 3D printing – each inspected by a curator. The mold is then destroyed. Even the exquisite frames are re-produced by hand, made from rosewood in the south of England.
“The Museum is the first in the world to have this patent,” explains van Eck. “It’s an amazing capability because the lead in the paints used by the artists of Van Gogh’s time, has caused deterioration in the original paintings.” He believes that the Relievos, priced at $40,000 U.S. each, while still a chunk of change, will increase in value.
That’s a bargain when you know that Vincent van Gogh’s painting, Vase With Fifteen Sunflowers sold at Christie’s auction for 86.3 million to a private collector from Japan in 1987!
In hindsight, it’s almost unimaginable that Van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime –Red Vineyard at Arles. This painting now resides at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. The rest of Van Gogh’s more than 900 paintings were not sold or made famous until after the painter’s death in 1890. In May 1901, German Jewish art dealer Paul Cassirer who promoted Van Gogh and Cezanne, organized the inclusion of five Van Gogh canvases in the May show of the Berlin Secession.
The limited edition Relievos (210 of the 260 are for sale,) are all numbered and certified and even show the original stickers and markings on the reverse of each canvas. A portion of the sales will go back to the Museum in Amsterdam.
Will this high-tech 3D printing for Relievos become the new standard for reproducing all original art perhaps even sold in museum shops? van Eck believes so. “The Getty and MOMA have already inquired about it. It certainly changes the accessibility of great art to the masses in the 21st Century.”
TOP PHOTO: Willem Van Gogh, the painter’s great, great nephew, opened the Oakridge Centre Exhibition, in Vancouver Canada.