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Interview Cornell van Loon - ‘I fancied my own ‘Van Gogh’ on the wall’

18 June - 2020
by Alice Broeksma

The Dutch painter/photographer Cees van Loon -artist’s name Cornell - painted in one year 23 copies of Van Gogh. It was a one-off series in 1990, immediately snapped up by buyers abroad. He kept a few paintings himself. Cornell, now in his seventies, is putting them up for sale ‘for the next generation to enjoy’.

It was 1990, the big jubilee year commemorating Vincent van Gogh. Merchandise with Van Gogh-images was on offer everywhere. ‘Often cheap and nasty’, says Cees van Loon, a life long fan of the French impressionist. ‘It made me decide to have a go myself. I quite fancied my own Van Gogh.’

The best hand-painted copy of Vincent van Gogh's Sunflowers ever made Cornell van Loon
The best hand-painted copy of Vincent van Gogh's Sunflowers ever made Cornell van Loon | €25.000,-

With his camera he went to Amsterdam, to the Van Gogh Museum he had so often visited before. Cees van Loon was after detailed images of Van Gogh’s painting technique. Flash photography was not allowed in the museum, but this was no problem as Van Loon had excellent light sensitive cameras and he used slides, as was custom before the digital era. ‘I had already seen many Van Gogh-reference books with a lot of inconsistency in colour. By taking my own photos of the original paintings in the museum, and thanks to my own art schooling (St. Joost Academy, Breda, The Netherlands), I could see how Vincent built and combined colours, his ‘wet in wet paint’ technique and the pressure he applied with his brushes. It was my aim to produce a copy just like the original. After studying my close up slides in great detail, I painted Vincent with his straw hat. The result was pretty good.’

Big challenge

That good a colleague painter, who saw the result, contacted an art dealer in Tilburg, Van Loon’s native town in The Netherlands - he still lives here. The art dealer soon paid a visit and immediately ordered 25 paintings of various Van Goghs. Van Loon: ‘This was not at all my intention. All I had wanted was to see if I could approach Van Gogh’s technique, and have my own ‘Van Gogh’ on the wall.’ But he did accept the commission and painted 23 canvasses, working for his regular employer during the day, painting at night. ‘It was a big challenge, but I got the hang of it.’

The art dealer showed the paintings in his gallery to the public, selling most in one weekend. ‘Often to collectors in Italy and America, for serious amounts of money’. Van Loon kept a few paintings himself. Now, in his seventies, he is offering them for sale. The Van Gogh copies are signed the way Vincent did. Van Loon assures the works cannot be mistaken for the real thing. ‘I signed them on the back with my own painter’s name, Cornell. Also, the canvas I used is modern, shop bought.’

Excellent copy of the Sower by Vincent van Gogh Cornell van Loon | €15.000,-
Excellent copy of the Sower by Vincent van Gogh Cornell van Loon | €15.000,-

Of course the Dutch artist is aware malpractice occurs - after life long study of Van Gogh’s work he says he can quickly spot the difference between original and fake. ‘There are many ‘Van Goghs’ in museums not painted by the master himself.’ Van Loon has a vast knowledge of the work of the famous impressionist, specifically his painting technique. Van Loon has a large collection of books on Van Gogh and follows the international discussions about the authenticity of the only known photo of the impressionist as an adult. Van Loon himself concludes claims, like the one by Italian art historian Antonio de Robertis, cannot be correct. ‘If only because the character in the photo is holding a sketchbook of a size Van Gogh never used.’

Moving forward

After 1990, Cees van Loon/Cornell stopped painting Van Gogh copies. ‘Nowadays stunning 3-D copies are made with laser-technology. But as far as I know there are very few hand-painted copies on the official circuit.’

When he finished his 23rd Van Gogh canvas, he decided he fully understood the technique and wanted to move forward. ‘It is easy to get stuck on one gimmick. I wanted to apply new techniques and add something to what exists. And each year I aim to finish a classic painting of my own.’

Portret of Amy Winehouse Cornell van Loon | €2.500,-

Portret of Amy Winehouse Cornell van Loon | €2.500,-

Impressionism remains Van Loon’s favourite style. But he has painted portraits on commission and recently, for himself, two music icons: Amy Winehouse and Mick Jagger -the Jagger portrait lit from the back with LED. ‘I worked as a DJ in the sixties and still have many music connections on social media. Music is a great love of mine.’ He now offers the Mick Jagger and Amy Winehouse paintings for sale, alongside his Van Gogh-canvasses on OnlineGallery.Art.

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