Vincent Van Gogh is responsible for some of the most iconic and easily-recongizable art in history.
His legacy is one of a troubled artist who created some of the most beautiful works of art ever put on canvas. On August 3, you can wear some of those works on your feet thanks to a unique partnership between Vans sneakers and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to “the preservation of Van Gogh’s legacy and collection of art,” according to Vans.
Along with shoes featuring some of Van Gogh’s most famous images, expect jackets, t-shirts, and other clothing bearing these images. If you are a fan of Van Gogh, this is the best way to support those in charge of his memory short of simply donating to the museum itself. Plus, there are no more luxurious sneakers than those bearing images (technically) worth tens of millions of dollars.
Who is Vincent Van Gogh?
Even if you have no idea who the man is, chances are you’d recognize at least one of his famous paintings just by virtue of cultural osmosis. Born in the Netherlands, Van Gogh was a prolific and troubled artist. His brother Theo worked as an art dealer, so Van Gogh met many famous art figures of the time. However, Van Gogh’s own work was almost universally derided. He struggled with mental illness, hearing voices and having both manic and depressive episodes. He famously cut off part of his ear during one of these episodes, giving the severed ear to a mutual acquaintance of his and artist Paul Gaugin’s before passing out.
Despite spending time in and out of the mental institutions of the day, Van Gogh produced well over two thousand works of art. He wasn’t successful while he lived, but after he took his own life the world woke up to his art’s tragic beauty. Today, there isn’t a college dorm in the world without at least a few copies of Starry Night hanging on the walls. Van Gogh is such a cultural figure, he was actually fictionalized in BBC’s Doctor Who when the titular character brings him to the future. It is a bittersweet scene, because the real-life Van Gogh never got this sort of validation about his genius.
The Man Who Paints Sunflowers
Vans isolated four “areas” of Van Gogh’s artistic canon for use in the collection. The first is perhaps the most famous period of his career. Paul Gaugin painted a portrait of Van Gogh called “The Man Who Paints Sunflowers,” because Van Gogh did so many of these paintings. He painted the series starting in 1887 to 1889, when he lived in both Paris and Arles. The image Vans chose for their shoes is known as “Sunflowers, repetition of the 4th version.” The shoes themselves appear brown and yellow from a distance. To really see what they are, you have to get up close to them.
The Almond Blossom
The next series of Van Gogh’s getting the luxury fashion treatment comes from around the same time period, 1888 to 1890, when Van Gogh painted blossoming trees. The image is evocative of Asian woodcuttings. Choosing it as a pattern for clothes and shoes makes perfect sense. While some of the paintings in this series features blossoming almond branches in glasses and on tables, this particular image features the expansive branches against a simple blue background. This painting, according to letters Vincent wrote to his brother Theo, was painted in celebration of the news that Theo named his newborn son after the artist.
Skulls Are Always Cool
Van Gogh painted only a few skull images during this time as well, including an image of a skeleton smoking a cigarette. This was used as the cover for the book When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. However, the two skull images used by Vans are less well-known. The two images, a skull in profile and head-on with yellow backgrounds, are the only other two paintings in which Van Gogh uses a skull as a motif. There is also a sketch, from around the same time as the smoking skull painting, which features a hanging skeleton in it. These first two images were done around the time Van Gogh was in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, and students routinely painted skeletons before moving on to human models.
Van Gogh the Original King of Selfies
Van Gogh painted dozens of self-portraits over his life, and they have become some of the better-known Van Gogh paintings, in every sense of the phrase. The majority of his self-portraits are actually mirror-images. Van Gogh used a mirror for reference, maintain that perspective in the work. Interestingly, it makes his self-portraits like us looking into a mirror and seeing Van Gogh’s face instead of our own. Vans decided to go with the December 1887 painting Self-Portrait as a painter. The image will appear on shoes, jackets, and shirts, all available from the Vans website or the Van Gogh Museum Gift Shop.
There is just something about the art of Van Gogh that lends itself to pop culture, and Vans x Van Gogh is the latest example of why.
The commercialization of art is something that academics, artists, and art fans alike debate and bemoan. Does putting a masterpiece on a pair of sneakers or a t-shirt lift up that article of clothing or does it tear down the value of that art? It’s a question only you can answer for yourself. But, if the goal is for art to be seen by as many people as possible, slapping it on someone’s chest or even their sneakers seems to do the job. That some of the money goes to ensure that the artist’s legacy is protected for years to come is just an added bonus.
What do you think? Would you wear Van Gogh’s art? Share your reactions, opinions, and experiences in the comments below! Remember to share the article on social media to get your friends in on the conversation.
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