VINCENT Van Gogh and even the prolific Pablo Picasso might turn over in their graves if they knew what had become of their works. While the originals hang in museums or in the private homes of the wealthy, the same images can today be seen virtually everywhere - on tablecloths, postcards, coffee mugs and other such mundane objects. Art reproductions, in hundreds of different forms, have become a profitable side business for the major museums of the world. Where originally only guidebooks or catalogues were sold, museum stores have now become the haunt of gift-buyers, culture buffs, your run-of-the-mill browser - and even hardcore collectors themselves. Today, these one-time souvenir shops - at such institutions as the Louvre or the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, or the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York - do enough business to boost to the coffers of museum trust funds. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, especially, is now something of an international franchise: over the past five years, MOMA stores have opened in Paris, Switzerland, Taiwan, Japan, Mexico, and, in 1994, in Hong Kong. Purists may decry the now widespread availability, in whatever form, of prized museum pieces: Renoir's 1883 painting, La Danse a Bougival on a jigsaw puzzle? Such a travesty! But those behind the museum shop movement say that not only the moneyed and the well-travelled should be entitled to enjoy fine art - the work of great masters should be brought into every household. 'Museum shops have helped to make art so much more accessible,' said Beryl Chan, owner of Primavera, one such outlet which opened here a few months ago. Tucked away from the bustling tourist traps in South Seas Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui East, Primavera is a quiet, almost respectful tribute to the finest museum collections. Chan, who has a degree in art history, represents the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Art Institute of Chicago among others. Ask for examples, and she will bring out museum-endorsed reproductions of Degas' Ballet Dancer (which, incidentally, can also be found dangling off sterling silver earrings), as well as Rodin's The Thinker and Michelangelo's Pieta. Shoppers can choose from 1,000 poster titles showing the work of Raphael and Michelangelo, stationery featuring Impressionist prints, and scarves emblazoned with colourful birds motifs taken from the work of John James Audubon. Chan said that many Hong Kong people were familiar with prominent museums around the world and could relate to the reproduction gift items that have gradually been brought to the territory. Which perhaps explains the success of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art Shop in Prince's Building in Central. Marketing manager Daisy Tan said the store was especially popular with expatriates who have some knowledge of European art, and the market was gradually extending to the Chinese population. 'Our jewellery, which is reproduced or adapted from the originals in the museum collection, are the most popular,' said Tan. Examples include a double-fish ornament, the priceless original of which used to dangle on the horse of a Moghul prince, and is now housed at the Metropolitan Museum. 'Even people with a limited interest in art and culture will be able to appreciate these pieces because they have been made into interesting objects that are aesthetically pleasing,' said Tan. Even dyed-in-the-wool collectors value museum reproductions. 'The Metropolitan Musem of Modern Art reproductions are very good examples of what they have, and museum stores generally keep art accessible,' said Alice King, owner of Alisan Fine Arts in Prince's Building. 'They make good gift ideas because they are unique, they come from well-known museums, and for people who don't get to travel often, they are a good opportunity to appreciate artworks. 'I spend a lot of my time in museum stores, buying books and catalogues for myself. And small gift items always show that the giver has an eye for something different.' Primavera, named after the famous Botticelli painting which hangs in the Uffici Museum in Florence, stocks mainly reproductions from American museums. To appeal to art buffs interested in 'anything from 15th century Italian renaissance genius to 20th century masters', the shop also stocks contemporary Alessi homeware pieces designed by Michael Graves and Philippe Starck and reproductions of ancient Chinese ceramics from Jingdezhen in Jiangxi, which was the historical centre of ceramic production during the Qing dynasty. There is also a small collection of works by Hong Kong potter Katherine Mahoney, while lithographs by 75-year-old Paris-based artist Zao Wou-ki have attracted strong interest, selling for $13,800 each. For people on a smaller budget, there are inexpensive calendars featuring groups of works: Picasso's Peace and Joy images or Monet's Impressions of France. 'Many of these items are educational because they give the background of the painting,' said Chan, who worked in a gallery before opening Primavera. 'Museum reproductions are perfect for people who like art but who can't afford to spend a fortune. Many people buy them as souvenirs, because they want to remember what they saw. But most importantly, museum gift items increase interest and awareness in art.' An exquisite painting by Chen Yi-fei, which went at auction for almost $2 million some years ago, can now be enjoyed by just about anyone. Reproductions of his portrait of a group of Shanghainese women playing the flute, are available for $1,800 each, and calendar prints for much less. 'Of course, reproductions can never capture the real spirit, colour and texture of an original,' Chan conceded. 'And maybe some of the old artists would have been offended to know that their work was being used this way, because it might appear too commercial. 'But many artists of this age would love it because so many more people get to enjoy their work - not just wealthy collectors and museum curators. 'It's flattering to be copied,' she said.