Amsterdam museum selling 3D reproductions of Van Gogh paintings

Museum offers 3D reproductions that would make most forgers proud

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 September, 2013, 4:08am

It would be the envy of forgers: a technology that can mint near-perfect reproductions of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings at a rate of three a day, with differences only experts can detect.

So far, five of the Dutch painter's best-known works, including Sunflowers and The Harvest, have undergone the treatment in a project backed by Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum using technology developed by the Fujifilm unit of Fujifilm Holdings.

"This is the next generation of reproductions. In the past we had lithographs, then photographs, first black and white, then colour. Now these are reproductions in three dimensions," museum director Axel Rueger said.

Each numbered copy on canvas with relief costs €25,000 (HK$258,000). The complex production process means only three can be produced a day, although prices may come down as production becomes cheaper and easier.

That's more than the usual US$15 university dorm poster of Sunflowers but a lot less than the US$82.5 million Japanese businessman Ryoei Saito paid in 1990 for Van Gogh's Portrait of Dr Gachet at a Christie's auction, or the US$53.9 million Australian businessman Alan Bond paid for Irises in 1987.

Rueger expects the reproductions to be especially popular in Hong Kong.

"Van Gogh is very popular in Asia, and Hong Kong is a very commercial market," he said. "People in Asia have a different attitude to reproductions. There was a lot of interest there."

The market was unlikely to feel any impact from the cheaper but technically proficient copies, one art expert said. "I don't see any harm done to rich Van Gogh collectors," Jop Ubbens, head of Christie's in Amsterdam, said.

"It is a brilliant innovation from a merchandising perspective by the museum reaching out to a totally new target group, something completely different and very creative."

Like many arts institutions hit by government budget cuts, the Van Gogh Museum is turning to the private sector and commercial ventures for funds.

It hopes to raise tens of millions of euros for its own renovation and research by selling the three-dimensional reproductions, known as "Relievos".

The original work is copied using Fujifilm's Reliefography technique, which combines a three-dimensional scan with a high-resolution print.

A copy of the painting is first made on canvas, producing a colourless relief. Ink is applied so the brush strokes match those in the original. The image is framed and the same process is used to apply copies of the torn and splotchy official stamps stuck to the back of the frame and canvas.

Van Gogh's paintings appear highly textured as he used the "impasto" technique, where the paint is applied thickly, showing the brush or knife strokes.

"It's reasonably difficult to see the difference between the copy and the original. Maybe the edges of the brush strokes are not quite so sharp on the copy and the overall sheen is fairly even, whereas on the original the varnish can vary," Rueger said.

The museum picked five of the artist's most famous works for the first set of Relievos, including Almond Blossom (1890), Wheatfield under Thunderclouds (1890) and Boulevard de Clichy (1887), as well as Sunflowers (1889) and The Harvest (1888).