‘Van Gogh’ close-up at King of Prussia

Vincent van Gogh, the Dutch modernist famous for sunflowers and erratic behavior, believed art should be for everyone, for the common man that he painted into his work.

Now, a van Gogh exhibition is touring American shopping malls, but it’s not the real masterpieces. The Vincent van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has created high-quality reproductions of nine paintings, and set them out on an eight-city tour, beginning with King of Prussia Mall, in a portable gallery erected between the Neiman Marcus and Lord & Taylor stores.

“Not everybody can travel to Amsterdam to see, to visit the van Gogh museum. We are exploring many ways to reach out to people,” said Vincent’s great-grandnephew, Willhem van Gogh.

The reproductions are more than prints. Using 3D scanning and printing technology, the van Gogh Museum has been able to re-create the exact texture of the painted surface, with all van Gogh’s thick, expressive brushwork.

“Here you see what we call thick impasto, that’s the thick oil paint on the canvas, that’s so characteristic of Vincent van Gogh,” said Willhem. The copies even recreate the cracks in the thickly painted surface, and the bare spots where the raw canvas shows through.

Van Gogh said the technology, created in partnership with Fuji Film, is proprietary; he would not go into detail other than to say that curators at the van Gogh Museum oversaw the fidelity of the coloring. It looks and feels like paint on canvas.

Yes, it feels real.

Even if you were to go to Amsterdam to see the originals, you would not be able get so close to them as you can these reproductions. You certainly would not be able to touch them, as Veronica Tamburrino did.

“I couldn’t stop myself,” said Tamburrino of nearby Salford Hills, who came to the mall with her daughter. “My daughter leaned over and said, ‘Are we allowed to touch these?’ I said, ‘Probably not.’ But nobody stopped me. I assumed, you know, they’re reproductions.”

A quick question to the ticket cashier at the gallery entrance confirmed that, yes, touching is OK.

Touching masterpieces – even reproductions – feels delinquent, but well worth it. Particularly with van Gogh, whose muscular brushwork is part of his great appeal. Tracing a finger through his gestures brought Tamburrino closer to van Gogh than she could have anticipated.

“It really does. It absolutely does,” she said. “It almost got me a little choked up at one point. It’s beautiful.”

You can even take one of these high-quality reproductions home with you, and it won’t cost you $80 million. But, at $17,500, there are not that many people who can afford one.

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