It's one thing to merchandise artists into mousepads and digital collectibles. It's another matter entirely to translate 2D artworks into IRL smells. That's exactly what the Van Gogh Museum proposes, however, with a forthcoming collection of themed fragrances cooked up by British brand Floral Street. It's far from the institution's first off-kilter collab, but it's a truly bizarre one, proposing scents inspired by an unnamed selection of Van Gogh paintings.
In the past, the Amsterdam-based Van Gogh Museum cashed in on its massive Vincent collection — the world's largest — with partnerships that ranged from Vans to Daily Paper to obscure Japanese brands, but this fragrance line is a true outlier. See, previous collaborations repurposed visual elements of Van Gogh's paintings whereas this perfume line must draw from his output in a more conceptual manner, leaving the finished product with only a tenuous connection to the artist.
The Van Gogh Museum's licensing manager, Marijn Veraart, insisted that "it is of utmost importance that the reputation of Van Gogh, his art and the museum is protected and treated with great care and respect," but the perfume project seems like an aesthetic stretch. Sure, artist and museum scents are nothing new — there was even a short-lived late '90s Van Gogh perfume line — but these new fragrances are a strange gimmick that will most likely pad the Van Gogh gift shop's already expansive selection of prints, duvet covers, and tea, rather than flesh out Van Gogh's worldview.
So why make them at all? Well, we may be in the midst of Van Gogh fever, with almost 50 ongoing exhibitions of the artist's work currently blanketing America. Plus, the pandemic has shrunk many museums' income by about 40 percent, and strange ideas like the perfume line are good for drumming up business, or at least press (see: this article).
Whether or not the Van Gogh fragrances make "scents" (sorry), surely someone will buy it when the first bottle debuts in August.