Imitating Van Gogh

Commentary and Replicas by Willie “Tatang” Vergara


Some people like me dream the impossible: To own a collection of masterpieces. What I've done to partly satisfy that dream is just to paint a few replicas myself. Replicas abound in art stores like Aaron Brothers or Michael's, but I thought I'd rather do them myself and be as close to the originals. Many of the ones you see in these stores are "look-alikes", but are miles and miles from the originals even when compared to the major details of the art piece. Besides, having created replicas of these masterpieces has allowed me the chance to study the brush strokes of the great masters, a practice of scores of other artists worldwide over the centuries. I will begin by showing you the four Van Gogh replicas that I have done so far, as follows:


1. Cafe Terrace at Night. Oil on Canvas. Original: 37.5"x25.5". This replica: 36"x24". This cafe still stands in Arles, though it was renamed “The van Gogh Café” and remodeled to closely resemble the painting which immortalized it. This is one of his most beautiful paintings, full of the light and peace he sought, but never found.


Perspective and warm complementary colors draw the viewer into the painting and beyond. The graphic texture of the street's cobblestones invite the eye toward the little café itself, with its tiny white tables on the street, repeating the spheres of Vincent's stars hung in the Prussian blue sky. The awning and walls of the café, warm yellow, cut into the sky to enhance both colors and form the main composition.


Van Gogh loved the night. He writes, "I have a terrible need of--dare I say--religion…then I go outside at night and paint the stars." He painted this night scene on the spot, at night, using no blacks. You will also see in this replica that I did not use any black, in keeping with the spirit of Van Gogh. 


His father was a preacher and Vincent went into the ministry for a while. It was later that this artist, now a star himself posthumously, decided his ministry would be to find a way to give hope and consolation to humanity through his art.


This replica now hangs at the Los Angeles home of my daughter Ria together with another one - Picasso's "Joie d' Vivre", which will be posted later at this website together with other replicas.




2. A Wheatfield with Cypresses. This Van Gogh replica now hangs at the home of my eldest son, Victor. This is slightly smaller than Van Gogh's original (oil on canvas - 24"x36"), only because of the limitations of stretched canvases available at the stores. Van Gogh painted this while he was in the asylum. It was at this time when he cut off his ear with a razor, after he unsuccessfully used in on his frenemy, a fellow impressionist named Paul Gauguin. He was alternating between fits of madness and lucidity. "The field is like a stormy sea; the trees spring flame-like from the ground; and the hills and clouds heave with the same surge of motion. Every stroke stands out boldly in a long ribbon of strong, unmixed color." - attributed to the artist himself.


It is now common knowledge that Van Gogh was able to sell only one painting in his lifetime. He lived a miserable life, and were it not for Theo, his younger brother who worked as an art dealer, Van Gogh could have been a wasted genius. Theo bought him everything – from his daily bread to his canvases.




3. Starry Night. 1896. The size of this replica (Oil on canvas, 30"x36") approximates the size of Van Gogh's original - 29"x36.5". It took me almost 40 hours to do this one, as in my 3 other Van Gogh replicas. There's so much to say about this masterpiece, one of Van Gogh's most popular, most studied, and most talked about. It has been the subject of movies, poetry and fiction. The lyrics of the song "Starry Night" says Van Gogh saw the world differently from everybody, and yet the modern hubble telescopes now show "swirling objects" in space as in the painting. "The world was never made for one as beautiful as you..." so the song goes.


As mentioned, Van Gogh was able to sell only one painting in his lifetime. It was only after his death that his paintings became so well-known, thanks to Johanna Gesina (wife of Theo) who published the letters that Vincent wrote after his death.


His ‘staccato’ brush strokes are very evident in this piece, and so is his ‘impasto’ technique (thick applications of oil). If there is an obvious difference between this replica and the original, it is the generous and abundant use of ‘impasto’ in the original.


Meantime, please enjoy this replica, which I gave to my most artistically inclined son, Carl.




4. Wheatfield with Crows. (Oil on canvas, 19.9”x40.6”) is considered by many as Van Gogh’s last painting, and thus “his suicide note”, and that his rather careless brush strokes reflect the severity of his tortured mind, quite akin to his visions he had of a raging sky at night.


Some art scholars view this differently though, basing their conclusions on the letters of Van Gogh to his brother Theo, showing that he wrote a letter describing this work several days before his death. Be that as it may, this is Van Gogh’s most fiercely debated paintings. The debate has not been resolved to date.


This replica (oil on canvas, 24”x48”) is one of four Van Gogh's I have painted – one each for my 3 children, and this one for my wife, Tess. I have been asked several times how many hours it had taken me to paint one Van Gogh replica. Answer: Between 35-40 hours over a period of 3-4 weeks.





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