Through the end of March, a one-eared painter named van Gogh is auctioning off his artwork for charity. He isn’t, however, the Dutch Post-Impressionist behind The Starry Night.
The artist in question is an 8-year-old rescue dog. The pit bull mix paints canvases with his tongue and paws—with a little help from humans. His artworks currently up for auction are based on famous 19th-century van Gogh masterpieces, like Sunflowers and Almond Blossoms.
All proceeds from the sale will go to Happily Furever After Rescue in Bethel, Connecticut, which helped van Gogh find a home. Before arriving at the rescue, he’d been used as bait in a dog-fighting ring, which left him with serious injuries.
“Despite everything this bait dog survivor has been through, van Gogh views the world as a masterpiece and has decided to share his talent with the world," the rescue writes on the auction website.
Dutch masters would likely find the four-legged artist’s methods questionable: A human strategically applies blobs of paint to a canvas, selecting colors that resemble famous works. The canvas is placed inside a bag, which is covered in peanut butter (or similar treats). Van Gogh then licks the outside of the bag, smearing the paint across the canvas.
“Having van Gogh create some of history’s most famous paintings felt like big shoes to fill,” Jaclyn Gartner, the rescue’s founder, tells Artnet’s Sarah Cascone. “There was a lot more attention to detail this time around to make sure to incorporate all the colors and try to recreate the pieces as closely as possible.”
The human van Gogh created more than 900 paintings in his lifetime. While the canine van Gogh has painted around 150, he’s still at the beginning of his artistic career. And most of the time, he paints quite quickly.
“It takes more time for us to get the canvas ready for him than it does for van Gogh to lick off the peanut butter and smear the paint around,” Gartner told the Washington Post’s Cathy Free in November.
Gartner has been selling van Gogh’s artwork since last year, when she raised several thousand dollars for the rescue. This month’s auction began on March 3 (the dog’s birthday) and runs through March 30 (the famous painter’s birthday).
So far, it seems to be a success. Per Artnet, the pet food company Pedigree offered $10,000 for the dog’s take on The Starry Night soon after the auction opened.
Last fall, van Gogh was officially adopted by foster volunteer Jessica Starowitz. As she told Today’s Jen Reeder in December, “We’ll let him keep painting until he says he’s done with it—probably if we run out of peanut butter or liverwurst or snacks.”
-Molly Enking, Smithsonian Magazine
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