Vincent van Gogh… the legacy lives on

Almond blossom (1890)

Vincent van Gogh’s great grandnephew, tells TRENDS how carrying the famous artist’s name has, despite his best efforts, influenced his direction in life.

“Intuitively, from an early age on, I thought I’m not going to be a van Gogh expert and I have to find my own way in life. So after high school, I was the manager of a theatre company and afterwards I studied law and became a lawyer,” Willem van Gogh recounts, noting that the famous painter’s full name was Vincent Willem van Gogh.

However, what he called the “script of life” had to be fulfilled and at the age of 45, the great grandnephew joined the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, where he was initially responsible for the museum’s shop, before becoming an advisor to the board. Today, Willem works as an ambassador of the museum, focusing on expanding and strengthening the museum’s relations and network.

The van Gogh museum houses the largest collection of the artist’s works, comprising 200 paintings, more than 400 drawings and original Vincent van Gogh letters written to his brother, Theo van Gogh – Willem’s great grandfather.

Fulfilling the artist’s wishes, the museum’s advisors always had the aim of disseminating replicas of the artist’s work, who wished to make art for the public, since the original works will never be for sale. On the 125th anniversary of the painter’s death, the museum brings the Relievo collection, comprising three-dimensional replicas, the closest versions to the original works, to the Middle East.

“People here want to make something that no one has ever seen before, this exists nowhere else in the world; well, the spirit is also a bit like that with this new generation of these reproductions,” Axel Ruger, director of the van Gogh museum, said during the launch. “We felt we would want to launch them in places where people have a keen eye for innovation, new things and for having very high-end products of good quality.”

The nine masterpieces comprising the originals of the Relievo collection include The Harvest, Sunflowers, Wheat Fields Under Thunderclouds, The Bedroom, Landscape at Twilight, Almond Blossom, Boulevard De Clichy, Fishing Boats On The Beach at Les Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer and Undergrowth.

The collection was first launched in 2013 and made debuts in Hong Kong, Beijing, Los Angeles and the Netherlands.

While commonly confused with 3D printing, the head of the museum explained that it is a far more complex procedure that created the Relievo replicas. Called Reliefography, the technology developed by Fujifilm is a combination three-dimensional scanning, digital imaging and printing.

Explaining the procedure in which the replicas are made, Axel says: “The pictures are being scanned in our museum with a 3D scanner, then a 3D substrate is produced, creating a certain texture, then we print a digital image on top of that with ink.”

The trick, according to Ruger, is aligning the digital image on top of the texture perfectly, especially that Vincent van Gogh did not always cover the entire canvas, therefore the alignment had to be perfect, as well as the colours.

The Relievo pieces show the structure of the painting’s surface, including richness in colour, the strokes of the brush and the full frame of the original paintings.

“We can accurately, to the non-millimetre, reproduce the texture and the surface of these pictures,” Ruger notes.

Each replica of any van Gogh masterpiece is available at a whopping cost of EUR25,000 (AED125,000). While the collection makes van Gogh’s art more accessible, Willem shrugs off any concerns that they would diminish the value of the original works.

“It is a very nice opportunity to come close to Vincent’s original art, it’s the next best option… but I think you’ll always have the desire to see the original one, so I’m not afraid that it will diminish, maybe it will stimulate museum visits,” Willem says.

Part of the proceedings from the Relievo paintings are being allocated to fund renovation and construction at the currently expanding museum.

About the region’s desire to seek consumer art, Ruger says: “I think I would call it a growing awareness because, of course, you now have several art fairs in the region, Art Dubai is about to open, there is a biennial in Sharjah, and there is great developments afoot, Qatar is developing museums, Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat, so I think there is a growing awareness and interest in that.”

Yet while there might be consumer power to purchase art in the region, Ruger stresses that it is not investment that should drive an art purchase.

“Art has always kind of gone up and down and I’m also an art historian, maybe I’m too idealistic, I always feel that art is more than just a commodity, you have to have the passion, you have to like it, if you buy it purely to put in a bank vault because it’s an investment, it’s sort of a shame really,” he says.

The Relievo collection will be on display at Fairmont The Palm until March 31.