Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers is one of the most recognized and reproduced paintings in the world. In 1887, Van Gogh painted the first series of Sunflowers — four paintings featuring close-ups of flowers lying on the ground. The second series, painted in 1888, are the most famous, seven paintings that feature 12-16 sunflowers in a vase. The first four in the series are unique (and only three survive, since the second version was destroyed in a fire in WWII); the fifth, sixth, and seventh paintings, painted in 1889, are known as the Repetitions, since they are essentially copies of the either the third or fourth version. The second painting in the Repetition series (Sunflowers with Fifteen Sunflowers, F.458), on exhibit at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands, is perhaps the most famous and therefore the most commercially reproduced.
In March 1987, Christie’s in London sold the third painting in the the Repetition series (Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers, F. 457) for $39.7 million — $80.3 million in today’s dollars, setting a new record for the price paid for a modern painting (paintings completed after 1800). Prior to that sale, old master paintings had the highest selling prices. The painting was bought by the Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance based in Japan. And it’s a good thing that an insurance company purchased it since the cost to insure such a painting would be prohibitive for most buyers.
Since most art lovers can’t afford an $80.3 million, the Van Gogh Museum has partnered with Fujifilm to develop a new technology, Reliefography, that does a 3D scan of a painting and produces a 3D high resolution print, known as a Relievo. And the price for a Relievo? A cool $34,000. The results are stunning, according to museum director, Axel Ruger: “It really is the next generation of reproductions because they go into the third dimension. If you’re a layman, they are pretty indistinguishable [from the originals]. Of course, if you’re a connoisseur and you look more closely, you can see the difference.”
Each of the Relievos will be numbered and marked with a seal of approval by the museum curator. And so that the Relievos retain their value, there will only be 260 copies of each of Van Gogh’s paintings. So far, only five paintings have been scanned and reproduced: Sunflowers, Almond Blossoms, Wheatfield Under Thunderclouds, The Harvest, and Boulevard de Clichy. Time for Van Gogh aficionados to free up some wall space and start scraping together $34,000 for that special art acquisition.
For further reading: The Private Life of a Masterpiece by Monica Bohm-Duchen, University of California Press (2001)