Vincent van Gogh
with Vincent van Gogh
‘China’s Van Goghs’ Documentary Explores the Industrial Scale of Art in the Village that Paints Thousands of Replicas
In the late 1980s, the village of Dafen in Shenzhen, China—home to a few hundred people—was set on an industrial course that would utterly transform the area. Over the past three decades in what is known as the “world’s art factory,” manufacturers have produced thousands of replicas of well-known paintings by Western masters like Vincent Van Gogh, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Edgar Degas. In a full-length documentary from Perspective, filmmakers render an intimate portrait of life in Dafen.
China’s Van Goghs follows painter Zhao Xiaoyong, along with family and friends, through typical days at work. Immense rolls of canvas are unloaded from a truck, a line of people add details to raw canvases tacked to the wall, and rows of paintings line-dry above their heads. “We paint, eat, and sleep—all in this studio,” Zhao says, sharing that before he began painting, he had never heard of Van Gogh. Now, he oversees the production of hundreds of paintings each month, for which photographs or small prints are used as references.
Entrepreneurial trade painter Huang Jiang established the village’s art industry in 1989 after moving his business to the mainland hamlet from his native Hong Kong. Dafen is characterized by an an assembly line process that has historically relied on cheap migrant labor, where local workers were trained to paint in oil. As the manufacture of copies of paintings by Western masters expanded, so did the village. Dafen is now home to more than 10,000 residents and has become a cultural center of Shenzhen, but the relationship between yì shù jiā (artists) and huà jiā (painters or art workers) is uniquely nuanced.
Zhao grapples with the difference between the two, and an opportunity to fly to Amsterdam with his family to visit the Van Gogh Museum and meet a long-time client provides many unexpected revelations, including finding his paintings in a tourist stand and learning that the profit margin is around ten times his compensation to make the works. After a trip to Arles, France, to the hospital where Van Gogh was briefly in residence, and his burial site in Auvers-sur-Oise, Zhao returns home and reflects on the visit with mixed emotions. He and his colleagues discuss feeling a connection to Van Gogh and a profound link with the work.
The documentary plumbs universal, provocative questions of originality and significance. Zhao recounts museum staff asking if he made his own work, and he explains “Do you know how much pressure I felt? I was shocked. I don’t even have a single piece of my own. I’ve just been copying, copying… To change from a painter to an artist, to whatever it is, is very difficult.” A friend posits that labels like “artist” and “worker” aren’t useful, and Zhao continues with a question that many creators will find familiar, “Have I become an artist? Do I have anything that deserves appreciation?”
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Hunched over with his face hidden in his palms, the weary subject of a sketch recently attributed to Vincent van Gogh (previously) embraces the collective spirit of 2021. The uncannily prescient drawing, titled “Study for ‘Worn Out,'” dates back to 1882 during an early period of the Dutch artist’s life when he spent time in The Hague. A recurring model, the exhausted, elderly man was a resident at the Dutch Reformed Almshouse for Men and Women, a place van Gogh frequented when looking for subjects. “In drawings like these, the artist not only displayed his sympathy for the socially disadvantaged—no way inferior in his eyes to the well-to-do bourgeoisie,” a statement said. “He actively called attention to them, too.”
As its name suggests, the relatable pencil drawing is a preliminary rendering for van Gogh’s recognizable “Worn Out” and is also reminiscent of the lithograph “At Eternity’s Gate.” The piece is a unique find in the artist’s oeuvre considering his stature, and it follows the discovery of a bookmark in June that was hidden for more than a century.
“Study for ‘Worn Out'” is on view at the Van Gogh Museum through January 2, 2022, when it will be returned to the anonymous private collector who brought it to the Amsterdam institution to confirm its authenticity.
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In 2021, it’s rare to stumble upon a work by Vincent van Gogh that hasn’t been previously identified, but researchers recently uncovered a few early drawings slipped inside one of the Dutch artist’s books. Now on view as part of Here to Stay at the Van Gogh Museum, the newly discovered bookmark has been hidden for about 135 years and dates back to autumn 1881, when the artist was in his late 20s and living in his parents’ village of Etten.
Depicting three single figures in a vertical line, the pencil sketches were found inside the artist’s copy of Histoire d’un Paysan, an illustrated novel by Emile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian that details the French Revolution from the perspective of a peasant in Alsace. Van Gogh mailed the book, which he first inscribed with his name, to his friend and fellow artist Anthon van Rappard in 1883, saying “I do think you’ll find the Erckmann-Chatrian beautiful.”
Van Rappard sat for a drawn portrait with van Gogh not long after receiving the novel, which was held by the family of van Rappard’s wife until the Van Gogh Museum purchased it in 2019. Despite their friendship, the pair had a falling out in 1885 after van Rappard criticized the lithograph “The Potato Eaters” (1885).
The discovery will be on view alongside artifacts and other artworks acquired by the Amsterdam museum in the last decade through September 12. (via Artnet)
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After spending more than a century in a private collection, one of Vincent van Gogh’s artworks has been shown to the public for the first time since the Dutch artist painted it in the spring of 1887. “Street scene in Montmartre (Impasse des Deux Frères and the Pepper Mill)” depicts a couple walking on a windy day in front of an entertainment hub in Paris. Full of color and vitality, the landscape marks van Gogh’s turn to his distinctive Impressionist style.
Prior to being put up for auction, only a small, black-and-white photograph taken in 1972 existed of the painting that’s reminiscent of some of the artist’s other works. The lively street is thought to be the same as that in “Impasse des Deux Frères,” which currently hangs at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and similarly depicts a mill and flags promoting the cabaret and bar through the gates. According to The Art Newspaper, there’s speculation about how the family obtained “Street scene in Montmartre,” considering many of van Gogh’s artworks at the time were gifted to his brother, Theo.
Pending COVID-19 precautions, the work is slated for short exhibitions in Amsterdam, Hong Kong, and Paris throughout March.
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Dive into Van Gogh Worldwide, a Digital Archive of More Than 1,000 Works by the Renowned Dutch Artist
A point of levity during the temporary shutdowns of museums and cultural institutions during the last few months has been the plethora of digital archives making artworks and historical objects available for perusing from the comfort and safety of our couches. A recent addition is Van Gogh Worldwide, a massive collection of the post-impressionist artist’s paintings, sketches, and drawings.
From landscapes to self-portraits to classic still lifes, the archive boasts more than 1,000 artworks, which are sorted by medium, period, and participating institution—those include the Van Gogh Museum, Kröller-Müller Museum, the Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands Institute for Art History, and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Each digital piece is supported by details about the work, any restorations, and additional images.
In his short lifetime that spanned just 37 years, the prolific Dutch artist created thousands of works, many of which he finished in his final months. His thick brushstrokes are widely recognized today, particularly in masterpieces like “The Starry Night,” although his sketches, drawings, and prints offer a nuanced look at his entire oeuvre. (via My Modern Met)
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Turkish tattoo artist Havva Karabudak (who goes by Eva in the U.S.) creates incredibly detailed illustrations on clients’ limbs, all carefully rendered within the confines of perfect circles. The artist, who splits her times between residencies in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, has been honing her craft for almost nine years. Previously, Eva worked as an art teacher and muralist; she got into tattooing through a friend who worked in the industry.
Using almost impossibly small lines, Eva inks interpretations of famed paintings by Matisse, van Gogh, and Klimt, as well as Hokusai’s The Great Wave woodblock print and Maurice Sendak’s illustrations in Where The Wild Things Are. The artist also specializes in water scenes and evening skies, giving a suggestion of infinite depth to her petite tattoos.
Eva is currently booked through November, but you can see more of her recent illustrative tattoos on Instagram.
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