Filipino painting credited to Van Gogh has traveled the world 2
Paul Hilario with his painting “Toil Today Dream Tonight.” Photo courtesy of the artist

This Filipino painting has been mass-produced as Van Gogh’s in different parts of the world

“It was hilarious to think that anybody can make a mistake when my signature is on the painting.”
RHIA GRANA | Aug 10 2021

For some artists, it’s a source of pride to see their work splashed on cell phone cases, printed out on shirts and tote bags, or looking back at them from coasters. For some, it’s flattery when amateur painters make a replica of their work. But what if your work was mistakenly credited as made by one of the world’s greatest artists of all time? And what if it happens over and over and over again, not just in the Philippines but abroad? 

Los Baños, Laguna-based artist Paul Hilario had mixed emotions when he had that happen with his painting, “Toil Today Dream Tonight.” The artwork, while admittedly done a la Vincent van Gogh’s famous “Starry Night,” depicts a very Filipino theme—farmers hard at work in the rice fields, with the sun shining brightly on the horizon. 

Notable are Hilario’s impressive brushstrokes and adept use of colors. That style that echoes the well-known post-impressionist’s beloved work. Placed side by  side Van Gogh’s art pieces on a website, someone only vaguely familiar with the Dutch painter’s body of work may fail to realize Van Gogh had painted wheat fields—not rice fields. 

Paul Hilario's
Paul's friend posts by a backdrop image of "Toil Today Dream Tonight" in an event

The discovery 

Paul became aware of the mistaken attribution sometime in 2019, when an artist-friend of his posted a photo of himself on Facebook standing in front of a replica of the painting. “Toil Today Dream Tonight” was made into a photo-op background for an event. Hilario did ask his friend to connect him with the event organizers who eventually settled the matter with him.

That discovery led the artist to Google-search his painting. “Lo and behold, I saw it being used in various ways in different countries,” the self-taught artist tells ANCX. “My art piece is being sold as a cellphone cover, t-shirt, downloadable image, mass reproduced in China, reproduced by another artist who sold it, a subject in painting parties, and painted as a 5ft by 15ft mural.”

A recent search revealed that some people continue to credit said work as a Van Gogh. He already called out one company that used the painting in the Philippines, and they apologized and settled with him for the use of the image. He also requested they donate to Art Relief Mobile Kitchen, a volunteer community kitchen that he supports. 

But when it comes to the work appearing in different products and being mass-produced in countries like China, Paul is not quite sure he can afford the possible legal battles it would entail. “I did get legal leads from friends that wanted to help me,” he offers.

Hilario’s work with Van Gogh paintings
A Google search of the painting’s title led to this spread where Hilario’s work appears among Van Gogh paintings.

Fields of gold 

How does it feel that his work has been mistaken as from one of history’s greatest? 

“It was funny, inspiring, but disappointing all at the same time,” says Paul. “It was hilarious to think that anybody can make a mistake when my signature is on the painting. Also, Van Gogh never made rice fields.” 

Paul, who studied Microbiology in UP Los Baños, says he’s aware his works “pale in comparison to Vincent’s.” But he is still understandably displeased because someone else is making money out of his work.  

The artist was mentored early in his career by the visual bard Marcel Antonio. If Paul’s “Toil Today Dream Tonight” looks very Van Gogh, this revelation might give a little clue: “In impressionist works like this, I get myself in the mood and pretend that I am possessed by Vincent and he is the one actually doing the work. Crazy scary huh?” Paul tells ANCX. The irony of it is that the rice field he created looks serene and peaceful, while there is said to be a lot of turbulence in the Dutch painter’s work. “A lot of heavy and expressive brushstrokes that are not peaceful at all,” adds Paul. 

A replica of Paul Hilario's painting
The caption for this work says its a replica of Van Gogh’s painting.

“Toil Today Dream Tonight” was actually commissioned by Filipino professor, Dr. Hernando Ombao of UC Irvine in the US back in 2013. The professor discovered Paul online; the latter was already creating pieces inspired by Van Gogh’s style at that time. The doctor wanted him to paint a Filipino version of the “Starry Night.”

“[Dr. Ombao] said he wanted a two-piece artwork that evoked anticipation for something big and bright that is going to happen,” recalls Paul of the directive. “However, there’s also mixed feelings of despair and hope happening at the same time.” 

Hilario made a diptych—the first half is set at day time (the rice field) and the other half resemble “Starry Night.”

Hilario had known of “Starry Night” even as a child, and of Van Gogh’s tragic death as well. But it was during a Humanities class back in college when he learned more about the art figure’s works and his life story. “In class, I was able to see his works in magnified detail and I was awed by the expressiveness of the brushstrokes, the colors he used, the unique technique, and more notably for me, the air of melancholia they exude. You can feel Vincent’s expressions in his paintings.”

Toil Today Dream Tonight image on a cell phone case.
An Amazon store screengrab showing the "Toil Today Dream Tonight" image on a cell phone case.

All rice 

There is actually a real source, or pinaghuhugutan, why rice fields are very personal to Hilario. His paternal grandfather, Dionicio Hilario of Asingan, Pangasinan, was a rice farmer. “Some of my summer vacations were spent on a farm, playing near rice fields, and tending to pigs, chickens, cows, and carabaos,” he shares in a Facebook post. “I would help plant and gather fruits and vegetables, too. I used to play over sacks of stored palay and imagine them as hills, mountains, or forts. After rice milling I would watch my Lola Satur, Inang as we called her, together with other relatives, winnow the rice that we would take back home to Los Baños.”

Meanwhile, it is from his other grandfather, Gabriel Reynoso of Tayabas, Quezon that he got his knack for the arts. “[Lolo Gabriel] was a well-rounded artist—very versatile with any media,” recalls Hilario.

A shirt printed with Paul Hilario’s painting
A screengrab of a page in an online store selling a shirt printed with Hilario’s painting.

The seeds planted by his lolos later on grew when Hilario worked as the curator of the Riceworld Museum at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) for about 14 years. “At IRRI, I saw rice fields every day, read news about rice every day, and talked about rice every day. I was even dreaming about rice!”

Thus, when he started painting seriously back in December 2010, rice was his staple theme. “I didn’t paint rice because it was popular and highly saleable but I was just truly inspired by the people, the culture, and the landscape. I still am.”

Check out more of Paul Hilario’s works thru this link.