‘Artistic consumption’—and a tradition of replicas—drive China’s Van Gogh fever

“Van Gogh…[there’s] a lot in China,” says the cashier at a souvenir shop near the “Little Potala Palace” in Chengde, Hebei. Here, one can send postcards from a Cafe Terrace or buy jigsaw puzzles of Starry Night stacked next to Tibetan Buddhist memorabilia.
Shopping online, or visiting gift shops, breweries, or cafes on the mainland, it’s easy to fell under the Dutch master’s spell. In October 2015, a sale on the 125th anniversary of the painter’s death saw millions of RMB spent on Van Gogh merchandise officially licensed by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam; some listings showed almost 5,000 percent returns. This is not counting the brisk trade in unlicensed kitsch from fashionable Sunflowers phone cases to foam Wheatfield mouse pads, stationery, linens, and umbrellas.

More recently, the December 8 release of crowd-funded film Loving Vincent in China triggered a fresh wave of fever: The world’s first oil-painted animation earned 38.5 million RMB in its opening weekend, and has a rating of 8.6 out of 10 on at the time of writing. It was a 2016 Dutch-Chinese co-production, however, that first tried to explain the Chinese intimacy with Vincent: Yu Haibo and Kiki Tianqi Yu’s China’s Van Goghs, which dates the love affair back nearly three decades.

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Vincent in Vogue is a story from our issue, “The Noughty Nineties.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


Gopa Biswas is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.