Interview: Vincent Van Gogh’s great-grandnephew talks about the famous artist’s replica artwork on display in Vancouver

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      “Many people have said that I look like him,” said Willem Van Gogh, the great-grandnephew of the Dutch post-impressionist painter.

      Upon meeting him at the Fairmont Pacific Rim for a short interview, it was evident that Willem bore an uncanny resemblance to Vincent Van Gogh, the brother of his great-grandfather Theo Van Gogh.

      “My grandfather inherited the entire collection of 200 paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, and 500 paintings from his own parents—Theo and his mother Johanna,” said Willem.

      His grandfather eventually donated the entire collection to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which was especially established for the artwork in 1973.

      When the museum first opened, it welcomed some 80,000 visitors a year. Last year, 1.9 million visitors walked through the doors of the place that houses the majority of Van Gogh’s artwork.

      “Of course, not everybody is able or has the possibility to visit our museum, and our goal is to share Vincent’s art, like our grandfather’s dream and Vincent’s dream as well,” said Willem.

      That goal of sharing Van Gogh’s artwork led the museum to create a special exhibition that would tour around different cities in the world.

      As the advisor to the board of the Van Gogh Museum, Willem was in Vancouver to launch that exhibition—the Van Gogh Museum Edition on tour—at Oakridge Centre.

      “We selected 9 paintings and each one represents an important stage, phase of development of him as an artist,” explained Willem. “I think the highlight is the almond blossom painting, it is so beautiful and it makes you feel happy. It is a very nice story because Vincent painted the almond blossom painting for the birth of my grandfather.”

      These nine paintings in the exhibition are replicas of Van Gogh’s original artwork. Each painting was created through “reliefography,” which is a specially developed process (which took seven years to refine) that brings together 3D laser scanning, digital imaging, and state-of-the-art printing technologies.

      “You can feel the stroke, you can feel the thickness of the oil paintings on the canvas,” noted Willem. “We call them the Van Gogh Museum Editions, but if you hang them next to the original ones, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. You can’t.”

      In addition to viewing the exhibition at Oakridge Centre, Van Gogh fans can also view a special installation at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel in Coal Harbour.

      Van Gogh considers one of his best paintings to be “The Bedroom,” which has been transformed into a live installation on the second floor of the luxury hotel. Created in a 4D format to replicate the popular painting, visitors can actually walk into the bedroom and take a seat on the flaming red bed.

      Willem hopes that the exhibition and installation can continue the artistic legacy of Van Gogh, and simultaneously motivate the people of Vancouver.

      “What I hope is that people get inspired and ask themselves what Vincent wants to tell and what his messages, dreams, his despairs are. In one word, we hope to inspire the people of Vancouver,” said Willem.

      The Van Gogh Museum Edition at Oakridge centre and the live installation at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel runs through March 27. 

      Follow Tammy Kwan on Twitter @ch0c0tam.