China is a manufacturing super power. They can produce just about anything in massive quantities, and at a cost few other countries can compete with. As a result, the country is ripe with opportunities to manufacture anything that’s desirable at the moment. This happens to include illegal things as well, like replicas of brand name items such as iPhones or designer handbags. This is often referred to as the ‘Grey Market’.
It’s worth noting that these ‘knockoffs’ are often produced by the exact same manufacturer (and likely often times the exact same individuals), meaning little difference in quality or material. That’s not always the case, of course. Obviously cost plays a role in quality, meaning there are good knock offs and bad knock offs… but I have seen some surprisingly good knock offs before.
I’ve always been curious to know if this extends to their imitation paintings as well.
I’m sure that you have all seen websites where you can buy REAL oil paintings of famous images for just a few dollars. In fact, I’ve seen websites where I could buy illegal replicas of MY OWN artwork more times than I can count.
At first, you take insult to it. But after it’s happened enough times, you really just don’t care anymore. There’s not enough money being made, or lost, to make it worth my time to bother with it. Trust me, no one is getting rich making copies of my work.
But it made me wonder…. Just how good are these copies?
Can these guys paint better than me?
If they were really good, or even just pretty good, could I have them replicate my digital preliminaries, into real underpaintings that I could then later finish?
Could I have them turn my digital paintings into real oil paintings for me?
Could I outsource my art?!
I came to the conclusion that I don’t want to do ANY of those things, even if I could. But I was still curious about the quality of these paintings.
So… In the spirit of professional curiosity, I took it upon myself to buy one.
I didn’t want to use my own art for this experiment. So I decided to buy a replica of a classical painting, from someone who is dead. In this case, I chose this incredible painting by the Hungarian artist Maria Szantho (1897-1997).
The description was VERY specific about this being a real oil painting, crafted 100% by Hand. But I figured it was quite likely that these might be digital giclees with just a little oil embellishment. So
just in case, I decided to contact the seller anyways, and make sure of it. He assured me they were indeed real paintings.
I went ahead and purchased it. The painting arrived rolled in a tube about 20 days later.
As I began to unroll it, the first thing I noticed was that the painting wasn’t painted on normal cotton canvas. It is painted on some sort of synthetic canvas, likely a polyester or vinyl. It is extremely shiny and grey in color.
|Cotton canvas at top, synthetic canvas at bottom.
The painting’s surface was covered in a thin plastic wrap, which I easily peeled away. As I did, I was immediately overwhelmed by the noxious smell of the painting. And mind you, I literally sit a turpentine riddled studio all day. This smell was intense. I actually had to bring it out into the garage. I suspect the artists are using some pretty strong solvents to make sure these oil paints dry in time for shipping. Likely a commercial grade paint stripper.
I also suspect they are not using the same type of artist grade oil paints we would use. The paint itself smells more like sign painting oils. If any of our readers are familiar with quick drying oil enamels like ‘1-shot’, it smells very much like that.
As for the actual painting… To be honest, my first impression of the painting really wasn’t that bad. Perhaps a non-artist might not notice the differences? But I was looking for those subtle passages that made the original so beautiful to me, like the fingers, the toes, and the way the face falls into warm shadow. Sadly, those were the exact areas where the painting really fell flat. In general, the form of the figure really lacked the sense of light and shadow that the original possesses. It also seems to be lacking the intense highlights that brought a sense of texture to the skin. All of the flesh seems to be rendered rather monochromatically.
You’ll also note in the photos above this bizarre striping in the image. This is from rippling in the ‘canvas’. The material is so reflective however, that it causes an optical illusion of sorts, and makes it look like the surface is dirty. These ripples are appearing more and more as the painting is exposed to air. It’s possible that as the oils dry, they are tightening on the surface, and drawing the canvas inward, causing the ripples.
You can definitely tell that whomever painted this image (and it may have been more than one person) had some training, but they really are a novice at best. I overlapped the two paintings, and the drawing seems to be quite accurate, implying a level of skill that the painting execution does not. I would guess that the original image was projected on the canvas to do the drawing.
So overall… I would say that the painting is a reasonable facsimile if what you’re looking for is to decorate your bathroom or something and you don’t live in a house full of artists.
But as for anything that could be of any professional interest, I think it’s pretty useless.