At the end of July, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam announced a collaboration with Vans, arguably one of the most iconic footwear brands in the world, taking advantage of the opportunity to say “Van Gogh Vans.” The collection, featuring a small selection of clothing and sneakers emblazoned with six Van Gogh works (including a set with letters written to his brother, Theo), bore the tagline, “Add a masterpiece to your collection.”
Art and shoe enthusiasts alike took the suggestion to heart: the first batch of collection items sold out on the Van Gogh Museum website in fewer than twenty-four hours, with anxious consumers commenting, “How are they sold out already?” on the museum’s Instagram posts. The collection lasted a bit longer on the Vans website; still, less than a month after the August 3 launch, the website had posted that, “Unfortunately, the Vans x Van Gogh Museum collection is sold out...”
Though the museum released a smaller second batch later in August, the museum has since posted that most of the items have once more sold out due to “overwhelming interest.” It seems that Vans and the Van Gogh Museum calculated this collaboration wisely, particularly with the upsurge in recent interest in exploration of Van Gogh’s relational life and artistic evolution.
While Van Gogh met little appreciation during a life that was rife with inner turmoil, he is now commonly accepted as, according to the website of the 2017 film “Loving Vincent,” “The world’s most famous painter.”
The past ten years, though, have seen a number of notably creative explorations into the study of Van Gogh, which have sought to explore the details of Vincent’s life as a brother and an artist. The lovely, Oscar-nominated “Loving Vincent,” the world’s first movie composed entirely of hand-drawn oil painting animations (modeled after Van Gogh’s style), focuses on the circumstances of Vincent’s death, the way that those close to Vincent perceived him, and Vincent’s close relationship with his brother Theo.
Similarly, the 2017 “Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers” by Deborah Heiligman, creatively explores Theo and Vincent’s story through their proliferation of letters, and currently claims the title “#1 bestseller in ‘Teen and Young Adult Artist Biographies’.”
The Van Gogh Museum’s Van Gogh collection follows these other artistic pursuits by using an unusual medium to consider Vincent’s artistic evolution. Diandre Funtes, a Vans designer, was quoted in a recent Glamour article as explaining that, “...we really tried, from the skull to the vineyard, to track the trajectory of his growth as an artist and educate the consumer on that. That’s what sets this collection apart...”
According to the Van Gogh Museum videos showcasing the collection, different paintings were selected for the shoes based on their meaning in Van Gogh’s life: a self-portrait demonstrated Van Gogh as a new kind of “modern artist,” cherry blossoms commemorated Theo’s son’s birth, skulls revealed Van Gogh’s technical innovation, and sunflowers revealed Van Gogh’s rich skill with color. From the early skulls to the personal letters to the late vineyards and sunflowers, the shoe collection notes and tracks Van Gogh’s fascinating, and melancholy progress as an artist. This mixture—this robust progression, full of life and color, musings and sorrow—resonates in a very human manner. And, all scholarly musings aside, the Vans x Van Gogh Museum sneakers are immensely comfortable, go with everything, and add instant artsiness to any outfit.