Amsterdam's Van Gogh museum wants to tap into the Pokémon fandom with its new collaboration - but it may have 'Pikachued' off more than it can stomach.
Pikachu in a grey felt hat, Snorlax and Munchlax lounging in Van Gogh’s bedroom, Sunflora peeking out of a bouquet of sunflowers – the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has a few curious new artworks for its 50th anniversary.
The Vincent van Gogh x Pokémon collaboration has inserted some of the most beloved characters from the Pokémon franchise into some of the most famous paintings by the Dutch artist.
On display in a small exhibition in the Van Gogh Museum through 7 January, the new works – painted by longtime illustrators for the Pokémon trading card game – are meant to encourage a new audience to discover the works of Vincent van Gogh.
The museum set up a game called “The Pokémon Adventure,” a simple scavenger hunt where visitors over age 6 can explore the museum, learning about the stories behind Van Gogh’s masterpieces along the way.
After completing the game, visitors received a limited edition promo card featuring “Pikachu With Grey Felt Hat” – that is, until the cards sold out along with all the other Pokémon-themed merchandise in the gift shop on the exhibition’s opening day.
An unexpected pairing
At first glance, the Van Gogh x Pokémon collaboration seems pretty random.
Van Gogh is one of the most famous artists in history, who struggled with mental illness for most of his life and translated his anguish onto the canvas in a style uniquely his own.
One of the most prolific self-portraitists ever, he wasn’t particularly interested in portraying animals in his works. Instead he mostly focused on still lifes, landscapes and himself.
Pokémon became a cultural phenomenon in the 1990s when the Japanese video game and trading card game (TCG) about adorable “pocket monsters” took the world by storm, leading to countless offshoots, movies, TV shows and a sea of collectible merch.
So what could a clinically-depressed 19th century painter and a 90s-era game about make-believe animals have in common?
Well, if the opening rush on the Van Gogh Museum’s gift shop is anything to go by, it seems like both Van Gogh and Pokémon are great at selling stuff.
Van Gogh and Pokémon are both associated with outrageously priced collectibles – the most expensive Pokémon card, a Pikachu Illustrator, was sold for almost €5 million in 2021; while Van Gogh’s most expensive painting, “Portrait of Dr Paul Gachet,” was bought at auction for $83 million (€78.6 million) in 1990, an equivalent of $180 million (€170.5 million) today.
The Van Gogh Museum says the collaboration with Pokémon was inspired by the artist’s appreciation for Japanese art.
“Vincent van Gogh greatly admired Japanese prints,” according to a statement on the museum’s website. “The use of flat planes of strong colours, everyday subjects and attention to detail in nature inspired him.”
Above the exhibition, a quote from a letter Vincent wrote to his brother Theo reads: “We wouldn’t be able to study Japanese art, it seems to me, without becoming much happier and more cheerful.”
Hordes of scalpers crash the party
The exhibition was overshadowed by a frenzied scramble to snap up all the merch related to the collaboration on the show’s opening day.
Videos posted on social media showed hordes of people grabbing armfuls of prints, cards, t-shirts and plushies in a Black Friday-esque stampede. The entire collection sold out in 24 hours.
Social media users accused the scalpers of ruining the exhibition by picking clean the gift shop to resell the merch at a premium. Many of the Pikachu promo cards have already been listed on resale sites for several hundred euros.
Pokémon issued an apology on X, saying “we are actively working on ways to provide more ‘Pikachu with Grey Felt Hat’ promo cards for fans shopping at Pokémon Center in the future.”