Van Gogh and Pokémon

Are you ready for a question?
What do Vincent van Gogh
and Pokémon
have to do with each other?
You'll know by the end of this lesson!
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Slide 1: Slide
ArtPrimary EducationLower Secondary (Key Stage 3)

This lesson contains 25 slides, with interactive quiz, text slides and 1 video.

time-iconLesson duration is: 50 min


Vincent van Gogh was inspired by art from Japan. In our time there are Japanese artists who are inspired by Vincent's work. The illustrators of Pokémon, for example!


About the lesson
The lesson 'Van Gogh and Pokémon' is structured step-by-step. All questions, answers and additional information for pupils can be found by clicking on the 'hotspots' in the slides. Additional instructions or background information for the teacher can be retrieved while teaching via the notes at the bottom of the slide.

Required materials
Printed copies of the various worksheets (see appendices).

Possible options for expanding the lesson
The relationship between Vincent van Gogh and Japan is further explained in the lessons Vincent's Japanese examples, Vincent XL and A haiku for Van Gogh.

More about Pokémon:

All Pokémon images in this lesson:
©2023 Pokémon / Nintendo / Creatures / GAME FREAK.


Items in this lesson

Are you ready for a question?
What do Vincent van Gogh
and Pokémon
have to do with each other?
You'll know by the end of this lesson!

Slide 1 - Slide

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To start with: where do you think this painting was made?
It's NOT the location you might think of at first glance...

Slide 2 - Slide

Answer on the next slide.

Vincent van Gogh, Flowering Plum Orchard (after Hiroshige), 1887
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
This painting was made in... France! In Paris, in 1887, to be precise.
By Vincent van Gogh, the most famous Dutch artist of the 19th century.

Slide 3 - Slide

The next slide contains a short introductory film about Vincent van Gogh (4:30m). If the students are already familiar enough with the artist, this can be skipped.

Self-Portrait as a Painter, 1888
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Slide 4 - Video

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Here's what we will look at
during this lesson:
We'll discuss what inspiration is.
You’ll discover one of Vincent van Gogh’s sources of inspiration.
And you'll discover what this has to do with Pokémon!

Slide 5 - Slide

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Yes, so quickly proceed!

Slide 6 - Slide

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Inspiration: getting ideas from something you see or experience, and then becoming enthusiastic about doing or making something yourself.
But first: what is 'inspiration'?

Slide 7 - Mind map

The hotspot contains a description.
         Vincent van Gogh found inspiration in Japan.

Slide 8 - Slide

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Well, not really IN Japan...
In Vincent's time, Japanese items were all the rage in Europe. Vincent was especially fond of prints: images printed on paper by Japanese artists. They were imported from Japan in huge numbers.

Slide 9 - Slide

Background information
Japanese art remained hidden from the West for a long time. Only in the second half of the 19th century did overseas trade really get going. Oriental art and utensils flooded Europe. Prints were especially popular with Western artists, because they were different from what they were used to. They were attracted to the oriental scenes, the special perspective and the bright colours. The Japanese examples gave their own art new directions.

The images can be viewed separately via the website of the Van Gogh Museum. You will also find this link in the next slide.
Vincent lived in Paris and simply bought his Japanese prints in shops.
He had quite a collection and even organized an exhibition of it in a café. Do you see the pictures hanging on the wall?

Curious about Vincent's collection?
Then have a look at this website.
... ...but FROM Japan.

Slide 10 - Slide

Vincent van Gogh, In the Café: Agostina Segatori in Le Tambourin, 1887

'... we wouldn’t be able to study Japanese art, it seems to me, without becoming much happier and more cheerful.'
This is what Vincent thought:

Slide 11 - Slide

The quote comes from a letter from Vincent to his brother Theo, written in September 1888.

Vincent enjoyed looking at prints by Japanese artists. It gave him inspiration. Sometimes he even used their art as a direct example.

You can learn from copying

Slide 12 - Slide

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Does this remind you of anything?
What is often striking about Japanese prints:
  • large areas in bright colours
  • straight lines around the different shapes
  • the 'cutting off' of shapes
  • few or no shadows

Slide 13 - Slide

Utagawa Hiroshige, The residence with the plum trees in Kameido (from the print series 'One hundred views of famous places in Edo'), 1857
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

This print was by Vincent van Gogh. The colours have faded somewhat over time.
What is particularly striking here is the 'cutoff': you can't see the entire tree, but you do see a large part of it. This makes it seem as though you are standing very close to it. Along the trunk and branches your gaze is directed into the distance. This gives the image the impression of depth. Japanese artists were very good at this effect, and Vincent learned a lot from it.
Vincent was good at copying. Yet to enlarge the Japanese print he used a trick: the 'grid method'. He traced a picture onto a piece of paper and drew squares over it: a 'grid'. He also placed that grid on his canvas, but larger. This way he could copy the drawing on a large scale, one square at a time.

Slide 14 - Slide

The Japanese characters on Vincent's painting were chosen at random. So someone who can read Japanese will see all kinds of mixed up characters and words. For Vincent, however, it was not about the text, but about the appearance.
So Vincent was quite inspired by the Japanese prints he owned. This is another example of him 'cutting off' shapes. He continued to do this in his own work.

And another example

Slide 15 - Slide

Let the students point out where the cutoffs can be seen in these works. Briefly reflect on its effect.

Orchards in Blossom, View of Arles, 1888
Almond Blossom, 1890
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
But what does Vincent have to do with Pokémon...?
That's actually very simple: INSPIRATION! And JAPAN of course.

Slide 16 - Slide

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Pokémon have been known in Japan since 1996. But just like Vincent they are now world famous.

Slide 17 - Slide

This is the homepage of the Pokédex, where all known Pokémon can be found.
So Vincent was inspired by Japanese artists...
In his world-famous painting The Bedroom (1888) he painted large areas in bright colours. He also removed all shadows. Just like Japanese prints, he wrote in a letter.

Slide 18 - Slide

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...but Japanese artists also by Vincent!
This painting is called Munchlax & Snorlax inspired by 'The Bedroom'. It was painted in 2022 by Pokémon illustrator sowsow. Vincent's painting inspired this new version 134 years after it was created. So you see: inspiration is timeless!

Slide 19 - Slide

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Snorlax and Munchlax...
...are but two of more than 1,000 Pokémon.
They range from large to small, from cute to fierce - and everything in between.

Slide 20 - Slide

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Are you a Pokémon expert? In addition to Munchlax and Snorlax, you will find other Pokémon here. Which ones do you see?
To the left of the window (where in Vincent's painting there is a mirror) you can see a frame with a portrait of Cubone.
Behind the window you can see Mew. Next to it you can see part of a frame with a portrait of Pikachu.
On the right wall there are portraits of Ditto and Munchlax.

Slide 21 - Slide

The links in the question and answer lead to the page of the specific Pokémon in the Pokédex.
Three Pokémon illustrators created
six Van Gogh Pokémon paintings.
Tomokazu Komiya
Naoyo Kimura
You can see these paintings for real in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam until January 7, 2024.

Slide 22 - Slide

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Which Pokémon will you give Vincent's hat?
Illustrator Naoyo Kimura chose Pikachu.

Create your own Van Gogh Pokémon!

Slide 23 - Slide

Choose which one of the three assignments on this and the following slides you want the pupils to work on. You can also let them choose one of the assignments for themselves. In that case, show all three slides. Provide sufficient copies of the different worksheets (see attachments).
Which Pokémon will YOU put in a Van Gogh painting?
Illustrator sowsow chose Munchlax and Snorlax.
Create your own Van Gogh Pokémon!

Slide 24 - Slide

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Which Pokémon will YOU hide in Vincent's sunflowers?
Illustrator Tomokazu Komiya chose Sunflora.

Create your own Van Gogh Pokémon!

Slide 25 - Slide

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