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Edition #8
Conflict and Context

Anastasiia Tkachenko
Edited by Maija Utriainen

The copies in the world of art: what they did to the original paintings and their influence on the business as a whole?

Dear readers, 


I would like to begin this article by explaining why copies create conflict in the business world of art. Ultimately, the battle comes down to two sometimes contradicting values, authenticity and accessibility. The main concern is that replicas often decrease the  cultural integrity of the original piece, as well as they undermine the trust of the buyers towards the auction houses, art dealers and collectors. Likewise, they erode the uniqueness associated with prestige of an artwork. 


However, the real conflict lies in the fact that similarly copies bring benefits to the art world as a whole, as they make art more widely accessible, by permitting larger audiences to cherish and engage with it. The replicas have a strong impact on the revenue seen in the art world, as the more pieces are being produced and sold, the more cash stream increases, having a positive impact on the economy. 


It is a conflict because to begin with, the replicas are conflicting with the beauty, value and prestige of the original pieces, undermine the uniqueness of the paintings and dilute the trust towards the artworks. At the same time, they allow a larger group of people to access and own these pieces of art, thus appearing not only as a threat to the originals and not only as less valuable reproductions per se. 


Taking these factors into consideration, the real question is whether these copies should exist, what they do to the original paintings and what influence they have on the art business as a whole? 


To begin our journey in this investigation, I would like to introduce you to the list of paintings that are being reproduced the most in the world, amongst which are: 


  • Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa 

  • Van Gogh’s Starry Night 

  • Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night 

  • Klimt’s the Kiss 

  • Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl earring 

  • Van Gogh’s Sunflowers 

  • Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire 

  • Klimt’s Almond Blossom 

  • Seurat’s Bathers at Asnieres

  • Monet’s Japanese Bridge 

  • Da Vinci’s La belle Ferronniere 

  • Canaletto’s Venice 

  • Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi 

  • Van Gogh’s A Wheatfield with Cypresses

  • Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

  • Cezanne’s Road to the Montagne Sainte-Victoire

  • Victor Gilbert’s Le Marché des fleurs

  • Degas’ Dancers in Pink


In this article, I would like to focus on such paintings as Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Klimt’s the Kiss and Monet’s Japanese Bridge and to discuss their copies and how they create a conflict in context. 


Before analysing the paintings themselves, I would like to look at the reasons why copies of art pieces are being produced in the first place. One of the reasons for production of replicas is artistic education and training, as copying masterpieces has been a conventional practice of artistic education. This is the manner by which artists learn techniques, styles, and compositional elements by reproducing the art works of prominent artists. This tradition has been widespread throughout art history. Copying also takes place in the form of apprenticeship and workshop practices, as in historical workshops, apprentices frequently assembled and re-created copies of their master’s works. These replicas can be used or sold as a manner to exhibit the ability of the author. 


Another reason why replicas exist is the market demand itself. As the popularity and distinction of a specific artwork increases, there may be a demand for replicas. Wealthy patrons who express admiration for a well-renowned painting, but cannot obtain the original might commission copies for their private collections. Furthermore, one shouldn’t forget about the importance of cultural and political symbolism, as well-known artworks frequently represent cultural and political significance. Coping these works of art can be a manner of expressing cultural identity, admiration of art and at the same time deliver political messages. 


Replicating art is also often done for the purpose of public exhibitions and displays: replicas of famous pieces of art happen to be created for public exhibitions, giving an opportunity to the wider public to appreciate and experience prominent pieces, which might be placed in distant museums and private collections. Likewise, artworks are often mass replicated in order to give accessibility: what I imply by writing so is that the origination of printing and later technologies has created a possibility to produce prints and reproductions of well-known artworks on a larger scale, which has also increased the accessibility of iconic artworks to a wider audience. 


Reproductions are also often the way to show homage and tribute to the artists, as the copies are being produced to celebrate the legacy of a particular work of the original artist. It is also true that some artists are attracted by the idea of challenging the recreation of a well-known piece of art in their own style or by using different techniques and media. This can be a way to explore and experiment with artistic expression. Some replicators are intrigued by mystique and iconic status: some of the artworks achieve an almost mythical status, and replicating them is a manner of engaging with their cultural and historical mystique and by copying them the artists create homage to its enduring significance. Finally, well-known works of art frequently become part of popular culture. Copying these works allows artists to engage with and reinterpret cultural symbols that resonate with a broad audience. Thus, these are the main, but not the only reasons why replicas exist in the first place. 


The first painting I would like to discuss is Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, as this is the most replicated painting of all the times. “Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, a wealthy silk merchant’s wife and the mother of five children, has been a leading contender since an art historian identified her as the sitter in 1550, more than four decades after the iconic painting’s completion”, painted by Da Vinci in 1503. Placing this artwork in the context of replicas, it is important to remember that there is a theory that the painting exhibited in Louvre is also a copy, made to preserve the original painting from any destruction possible done to it (e.g. like the ones we have recently seen with the environmental protests, when the whole paintings were covered in soups or paint). 


One of the most well-known copies of Mona Lisa is often regarded to be the version produced by Marcel Duchamp, a renowned French-American artist and a leader in Dada art movement. His version known under "L.H.O.O.Q.," was created in 1919 and is considered a seminal work of 20th century art. We can find a mustache and a beard, which were added by the painter to Mona Lisa, as well as playing on the French pronunciation of the title, which he has altered. Duchamp's work is not a traditional copy in the sense of replicating the painting precisely but is instead a witty and provocative commentary on the nature of art and the concept of originality. Whilst Duchamp’s variation is amongst most well-known reinterpretations, countless other artists and copies of the Mona Lisa exist, ranging from faithful reproductions to creative reinterpretations across various media. Every single of these replicas play a part in experiencing and undergoing cultural impact and fascination with Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece. 


The second painting I would like to analyse is Van Gogh’s Starry Night. “The Starry Night, a moderately abstract landscape painting (1889) of an expressive night sky over a small hillside village, one of [the artist’s] most celebrated works”. “The oil-on canvas painting is dominated by a night sky roiling with chromatic blue swirls, a glowing yellow crescent moon, and stars rendered as radiating orbs. One or two cypress trees, often described as flame-like, tower over the foreground to the left, their dark branches curling and swaying to the movement of the sky that they partly obscure. Amid all this animation, a structured village sits in the distance on the lower right of the canvas. Straight controlled lines make up the small cottages and the slender steeple of a church, which rises as a beacon against rolling blue hills. The glowing yellow squares of the houses suggest the welcoming lights of peaceful homes, creating a calm corner amid the painting’s turbulence”. Whilst talking about the reproductions of the Starry Night, there might not be a single most famous copy, as several notable adaptations, replicas and reinterpretations exist. One especially well-recognised and truly unique version is the painting by the artist of American decent Don McLean. Don Mc Lean most known as a singer and songwriter, created a large-scale canvas that combines elements of van Gogh's "Starry Night" with imagery from McLean's own song "Vincent”. McLean’s piece is rather an interpretation than a direct copy of Van Gogh’s Starry Night that merges the visual and lyrical elements associated with van Gogh and McLean's artistic expressions. The painting embodies and includes the swirling night sky and cypress tree from van Gogh's original, including symbolic details related to Mc Lean’s song about the problematic life of the artist. 


The third piece I would like to draw your attention to is Klimt’s The Kiss. Even though there isn’t a single most prominent copy, there are several reproductions made as a tribute to Klimt’s original. Numerous artists and individuals have created their own interpretations or reproductions of this iconic painting. Some might be recognised in particular art societies or online communities, but to present one universally recognised copy would be challenging. Klimt’s “The Kiss” is a masterpiece recognised for its distinctive style, use of gold leaf and symbolism. Artists and art enthusiasts have been drawn to replicate or reinterpret it for various reasons, including homage to Klimt, exploration of artistic techniques, or personal expression.”


The last painting I would like to present to you is Claude Monet’s Japanese Bridge. The series of Japanese Bridge at his home in Giverny has inspired many artists and enthusiasts to recreate it in their own manner. Similarly to Klimt’s Kiss, there is no one single most well-renowned copy of a Japanese Bridge, but there are rather a few instances when artists have produced their own adaptations of this piece. Firstly, In academic settings and art workshops, students frequently re-interpret famous artworks as part of their education. Copies of Monet's Japanese Bridge may be created in these contexts, with each student bringing their unique style to the interpretation. Furthermore, many amateur artists and enthusiasts are drawn to Monet's Japanese Bridge series due to its beauty and tranquil atmosphere. They may create copies or reinterpretations as a form of personal expression or to pay homage to Monet. It is also true that some contemporary artists engage with the legacy of Monet and may create works inspired by his Japanese Bridge series. These pieces may be featured in exhibitions that explore the ongoing influence of iconic artists on contemporary art. What is more, with the rise of social media and online art communities, artists can share their creations with a global audience. It's common to find artists sharing their copies or reinterpretations of famous artworks, including Monet's Japanese Bridge, on platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, or art-specific websites. 


To conclude, it can be clearly seen that copies and reinterpretations of paintings create conflict due to the opposing connotations, both positive and negative. Thus, even though it is a true conflict between authenticity and accessibility, as mentioned above, there are a lot of beneficial aspects that replicas bring to the art world, such as the possibility to learn for beginner artists (artistic education), cultural and political symbolism, accessibility and mass production, homage and tribute, artistic challenge, public exhibitions and displays, augmentation of iconic status of the original paintings and market demand, which improves the condition of the global economy by creating additional possibilities for trade. 






  6. Ibid.


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