Is copying artwork legal? And no, let’s not talk about counterfeiters

Most of us struggle with that to draw a realistic tree but people like Andrea Dlouha they are able to reproduce not only reality, but also the works of art of others with millimeter precision. In his studio at ParisDlouha has faithfully copied dozens of works by some of the biggest names in art history, from Picasso to Van Gogh to Renoir. Sometimes people even commission duplicates of artworks from her family and ancestral portraits.

“I don’t have a favorite time,” says Dlouha. “It’s in moments and according to people’s wishes. There are wonderful aspects to every age.” Dlouha herself seems to have stepped out of another era, with her radio always tuned to a classical music channel and the walls of her studio covered in paintings. She seems amazed at our interest in her work, despite being one of the last people in the country to make fine art reproductions with clients around the world.

In the 19th century, hand-made reproductions were in high demand. But with the advent of technology, printed copies of famous paintings have become a cheap and widely available solution and niche of the once highly profitable industry.

The key to Dlouha’s success is a combination of talent and diligence: not only are his paintings identical to the originals, but he uses historical techniques to create them. For example, he paints mainly with pigments that were extracted as in the past. “This is an oil made the way it was made in the 16th century,” he explains, picking up a jar from a shelf. “You have to cook it on the fire for two hours.”

In the past, professional painters only had five base colors to mix and match in a palette. “This resulted in harmonious images that were never too bright,” explains Dlouha. At the time, reproduction was considered an art form in its own right that was passed from teacher to student. “Each store had its own secrets,” says Dlouha. “It took an average of 13 years to become an artist in the industry.”

Dlouha approaches his paintings as if they were mathematical problems. “It’s like baking a cake without a recipe,” he says. He takes inspiration from art restoration studios and tries to see the original works live whenever possible, as the colors on posters or books are always slightly different.

The work of a person who reproduces works of art is not to be confused with that of a person who falsifies them. To make a legal copy of a work, it must first have no copyrights in it. In France [ma anche in italia]A painting is considered to be in the public domain if more than 70 years have passed since the death of the author. In addition, you cannot reproduce the painting in its original size. You must also brand the back of the copy, and finally, imitating the signature of the original painter is forbidden.

French museums are happy to welcome breeders. You have to ask permission to paint directly in front of a picture, but during the weekdays, when there are not too many visitors, permission is usually granted without any problems. Dlouha has even traveled abroad to take a close look at a painting; She recently went to Germany to see a Breughel. “It’s a kind of internal immersion,” he says. “I’ll stay there for a while, I’ll go, then I’ll come back.”

Despite the passion he shows for his vocation today, Dlouha didn’t always dream of becoming an artist. She was previously a biologist and worked in the pharmaceutical industry for several years, but the job did not motivate her very much. Eventually he decided to paint a picture to put up in his house – his first copy, which he admits was not great. “The moment of truth came when I lost my job,” he says. “I was struggling financially and at that point I decided to seize the moment — and it worked.”

Dlouha left everything behind and opened a workshop. She has no experience in specific studies, she just learned it herself. It took him 20 years to perfect his technique and turn it into a career. At first, the decision scared her loved ones. “People used to say to me, ‘Why are you trying so hard? Today the reproductions cost 30 euros online,” he says. “But it’s like comparing a plastic bag to a Hermès.”

However, his customers need some patience, because it takes about a year for a picture to be finished. The prices depend on the duration and effort of the practice and start at 1,500 euros for a small painting and range up to several tens of thousands of euros, depending on the difficulty and size of the reproduction. Of course, Dlouha cannot take pictures of any size: you still have to go through the doors of his studio, which are 2.20 meters high.

Dlouha not only sells his works, but also teaches the craft to his students – who are usually novice painters or people learning how to restore the classics of art. On the day we meet, Dlouha is finishing one of her classes. As the students leave, I notice their admiring looks.

When I ask her if she doesn’t get frustrated with being so good, only copying, Dlouha replies that the question reflects an ongoing debate in the art world. Some see the reproducers as mere technicians, others say they are artists through and through.

Dlouha thinks she doesn’t have enough time to dedicate to her own paintings because she has too many requests. Not to mention that “as an artist making reproductions, the weight of 500 years of classical paintings rests on his shoulders,” he says. “Sometimes it’s hard to break free.”

In the end, Dlouha is satisfied with her work. “It’s not creative art, but you still have to reinvent yourself with every single copy.” He also makes good money. “This whole romantic notion of the starving artist — it never felt romantic to me,” he says, laughing.

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