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Copying Art has a Long History...surprising facts about an artist we love

©Janis Zroback ©Janis Zroback 8361 posts

Lately we have been discussing whether prizes should be given to artists who copy or appropriate work…the discussion has been heated especially about the Wynne Prize in Australia (see forum)..
I started to do some research and honed in on Van Gogh, who copied 21 paintings of Jean Francois Millet

“The profound influence of the work of Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) upon Vincent van Gogh cannot be overstated. One can find many interesting and diverse influences which play a part in Van Gogh and his art. These even extend into other media such as literature (Van Gogh had a great respect for the works of Charles Dickens and their focus on the working class). While Van Gogh admired and studied the works of many artists including Rembrandt and Doré, none even begin to compare to the tremendous impact of Jean-François Millet’s works upon Van Gogh’s” wiki

Here are a few samples…Millet’s are the top paintings, Van Gogh’s copies below…

Kensoi Kensoi 66 posts

Excellent Janis. I Know These Well It’s Been Going On Since Time Began. Also Braque/Picasso Etc Etc…………………
When You Start To Draw Older Paintings Etc You Can Learn A Lot. Light & Shade Etc. (My Personal Opinion)

For Me For Example I’ve Been Putting A Rough Together For An Art Nouveau Look. This Has Included A Photograph Of A Print By Mackintosh I Have
Then Cropped & Played Around In Photoshop.
It Was For Le Deux Magots In Paris. Like A Menu I’m Trying To Create (Just As A Excercise) I Wanted It Quite Stylish Because Of The Venues History Etc.
But For Me I Would Not Submit As A Finished Artwork (Again That’s Just Me)

Some People Have Spent So Much Time On Their Painting & Art That I Don’t Really Know What The Answer Is To This One & At The End Of The Day Who Are We To Judge
I Hope Some Of That Made Sense…….. Ken

bevmorgan bevmorgan 339 posts

Absolutely fascinating, Janis. Maybe this was acceptable in certain circles back then, and of course we use this method of copying with students in art, so they can understand the techniques of the masters, and other well known painters. I always did this with my grade 6 students when we were studying the Group of Seven. They had to give credit, of course, and were told this was only acceptable in a learning situation.
You post the most interesting discussions. Thanks for this, Janis.

BeClo BeClo 9069 posts

Good topic !
Students are encouraged to go to Museums and study paintings by the old masters and copy them to learn. I have done so with Chardin.

However copying work from a contemporary artist to make a profit is not allowed. I am a member of the Designers and Artists Copyright Association and I defend art and artists very strongly against their work of art being stolen.

Reference to the lovely photos that you are showing. Picasso had copied the work of a great master (whose name is gone from my head) but he expressed it in cubism, which at the time was shoking but now much appreciated as his style.

Thanks Janis.

artsguy artsguy 11 posts

I don’t appropriate other Artist’s work for my own, but I do use photo images of objects that I want to interpret in my work…………

Kathleen Stephens Kathleen Stephens 7234 posts

How many of the exercises that we were given in art classes had us copying the masters? I lost count. The question of claiming the copies and selling them as our own work is a legal, as well as moral issue if they are not out of copyright. Does the fact that they are now in public domain give us the right to sell our copies of them as our own work?

Kensoi Kensoi 66 posts

I Was Thinking A Bit More About & It Could Be Argued That The Above Are Interpretations Of What They Have Seen ?

As Opposed To A Complete Rip Off Of The Original. Which Breaks All Copyright Laws.

Kathleen Stephens Kathleen Stephens 7234 posts

A read of Derivative Works and Transformative Works found in the Copyright Protection Group may help. This is in the section of the forum for artists. You can find other useful information and links there as well.

Kensoi Kensoi 66 posts

These Are Really Usefull

MagsWilliamson MagsWilliamson 26 posts

This is fascinating, I’d no idea that Van Gogh copied another artist’s work but as he’s done them in his own unique style is it still a breach of copyright?

©Janis Zroback ©Janis Zroback 8361 posts

The origins of copyright law, which in England dates back 300 years, was designed mainly to protect writers especially when the printing press came into being and copies could be made very easily..though there have been instances of copyright disputes as far back as 557 A.D..
Copyright with regard to art works came much later and in fact it was only in 1988 that Great Britain clarified exactly what came under the old copyright laws…
It was and still is fairly common for artists to copy earlier works and in fact throughout the history of Chinese Art, you were expected to copy the masters, and not branch out on your own as it was considered that the masters studied for many years and knew how nature should be interpreted…even signatures were copied…

However today, copying a work whether it’s in the public domain or not and signing it as yours is a crime…copying the works of old masters and signing it as “in the style of” or “after such and such” is quite acceptable…creating “new” works by old masters and faking their signatures will land you in jail for sure…copying contemporary works which are not in the public domain and signing them as yours will have you in court as well…

Van Gogh’s copied works were perfectly acceptable then as now.. they are definitely painted in his inimitable style, but if he were painting them now and copying a contemporary artist he may well have a problem if the other artist chose to sue…except for brush strokes, some in fact are really almost exactly the same as the are some more…

Kathleen Stephens Kathleen Stephens 7234 posts

I have to wonder about van Gogh’s work. Was he just copying as an exercise such as an apprentice or student would do – he did some much of it? I know at the time things were quite different and such things were expected of artists. I need to do some reading on van Gogh to see just how this type of work fit into his development as an artist.

Yes, no doubt, Janis, this would have landed him in court today. Derivative art can only be done by the original artist or with his permission.

Kathleen Stephens Kathleen Stephens 7234 posts

Actually, that isn’t necessarily the case. I can sit here and copy someone’s painting. I can print off copies of works I found here at RB. I can wallpaper my home office with them.

Copyright isn’t about art or photography, it’s about what we do with it. I can make a copy of someone’s work and hang it in my home. I can’t hang the same painting in a business office or anyplace where it is open to the public – that would be considered publishing. We have to keep in mind that violations are about publishing not producing. If van Gogh were doing these paintings now, it’s not the doing that would be a problem for him, it’s what he does with them that could be. If he kept them to himself, never showed them or published them in any manner then there would be no violations committed.

©Janis Zroback ©Janis Zroback 8361 posts

But he did them to sell and sell they did…it was later in his career, so he had already done many paintings…it was a very common practice…I am going to find some other examples of artists who did this…

Yes you can make all kinds of copies and hang them in your house and no one would be any the wiser, but if you showed them or tried to sell them, that ’s different kettle of fish…

Pinkham Pinkham 12 posts

Thank you for this info. I loved looking at the works. Having no want or wish to learn about what fine artist do and how they do it doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy seeing another view of such fine paintings. I would of guessed the differences would of been greater in color.

“I am going to find some other examples of artists who did this…”

and I look forward to seeing them.

©Janis Zroback ©Janis Zroback 8361 posts

@pinkham…They probably looked brighter originally…plus these are copies of copies of copies of photos of the paintings…glad you enjoyed them…

kafka kafka 3144 posts

Great topic Janis!

@Beatrice – Picasso painted 58 different versions of Velazquez’s Las Meninas – they’re not exact copies of course, but ‘copying’ from old masters is not seen as a problem as long as the new work adds something new and individual.

I wonder how many copies of Van Gogh’s paintings have been made?!

Copying is a great way of learning – years ago when I was a kid I got annoyed because I could never get my watercolours to look like ‘real’ artists watercolours, my dad bought me a book full of beautiful examples of Turner watercolours (I still have the book) and told me to try and copy them, at first it was hopeless but once I started to really study how he made the marks I was up and running in no time – then my dad took the book off me and said ok, now start painting some stuff for yourself……

Many years later I was reading a book called The Voices of Silence by Andre Malreaux where in one part he says that all painters love paintings and they begin by painting like the painters they love, and that no painter progresses directly from their drawings as a child (or beginner) to the works of their maturity – I was struck by this notion and realised how well it described the start of my own journey to becoming ‘me’ as an artist – all the work that I made in my youth was derivative in some way of the artists and paintings that I loved.

kafka kafka 3144 posts

Here’s another famous Velazquez copy – on the left Velazquez, on the right Francis Bacon

ps. estimated auction price of the Bacon is $80 million……not bad for a copy! :-)
(the Velazquez is literally priceless)

©Janis Zroback ©Janis Zroback 8361 posts

Thanks so much for the input Kafka…I appreciate the mention of Picasso…I know he was a famous copier and was going to check him out next…good point about Van Gogh…I am sure there must be millions of copies of his Sunflowers alone…
BTW….Anything by Bacon scares me and this one I can’t even look at for very long, yet it keeps me looking at it again and again……

Marilyn Brown Marilyn Brown 4336 posts

Hmmm, must say that I can’t see a problem with appropriating somebody elses work to change it’s message.

Another point to seriously consider is the fact that it is extremely hard to be original. I believe it is the sytle the subject matter is painted in that makes it uniquely your own.

I also love the fact that art makes art.

The true crime is when somebody passes a painting of as something that it isn’t.

@Janis van Gogh is renowned for not selling many paintings at all in his life time.

I googled it states

“Van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime Red Vineyard at Arles. This painting now resides at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. The rest of Van Gogh’s more than 900 paintings were not sold or made famous until after his death.”

I know he used to barter with his paintings for food, entertainment and medical bills but that is not the same really.

I am sure as he was so prolific Millets paintings would have been a resource for him to keep himself occupied. That’s only my opinion though. The style in which he painted them were more reminiscent of his later works.

Great topic.

Just check out this web page to see how many time da Vinci’s Masterpiece has been appropriated, is it right or wrong, I believe it is niether

It’s a general progression of self expression.

Kensoi Kensoi 66 posts

This Has Been Really Interesting.
Cubism: Braque/Picasso Their Should Be Examples There.
It’s Been A While Since I Done My History Of Art Etc.
If I Had More Time Today I Would Try & Find These Comparisons.
Really Enjoying This Also Learnt Something.
The Other Connection I Was Trying To Make In My Rough Was The Fact That Art Nouveau Was Rejected Mostly In Britain.
Altho It Was Not In The Glasgow School Of Art Mackintosh, & Scotalnd St School Etc
And As I Thought As Long As It For Personal Growth Not A Problem.
Wiki: Art Nouveau

©Janis Zroback ©Janis Zroback 8361 posts

@Marilyn…yes I was aware he did not sell while he was alive, but like so many artists then as now he wanted to sell his work and could not find a market…the works were done later in life and I agree I see nothing wrong as his style was quite different, however if he were painting today I think there would be quite an uproar as there was over the Wynne prize…thanks so much for the links…

Malcolm McCoull Malcolm McCoull 16 posts

It’s a very interesting subject….I think and hope it is all right to use another persons Painting or Several Paintings as something to draw inspiration from as Kafka has said……… You shouldn’t copt directly the figures or trees Verbatim……rather you could use similar colours or try to adopt some rough style that you admire…If you have any doubts that you have gone too near to another persons Painting….then if you only have to say "In the style of " or “After Such and Such” … that is easy ….I don’t completely believe it ….But if that is true it would make things much easier. I must say that I
find it amazing that Van Gogh would have bothered to even copy the poses…Couldn’t he think to make a few changes? a very simple thing. I think as
Kafka has said that most painters study the painters they admire in the hope that some of their magic will rub off on us…it is difficult to paint in a
style which you don’t like or admire….Keep the Subject Going I find it very interesting

©Janis Zroback ©Janis Zroback 8361 posts

@Bluewasserciel…if you haven’t already, take a look at Marion’s links on the Mona Lisa…it’s mind blowing…I am beginning to believe that all artists copy each other… :))

kafka kafka 3144 posts

Janis, that statement may be truer than you think!

Copying or imitating is something that all great painters have done at some time and not only for reasons of learning techniques or imitating styles of painting. One of the key things that you can trace back through the lives of any great painter is not the ‘sudden vision’ or ‘moment of genius’ (although they are certainly there) but the line leading to the vision, emotion or serenity of another artist.

Even Picasso’s most cataclysmic work ‘les demoiselles…’ arguable the painting that launched modern art and certainly the painting that began the cubist movement has a direct line to the faces of primitive African face masks (which Picasso was fascinated by) – Painters/artists do not stem solely from themselves and their childhood, but also from their conflict with the achievements of their predecessors. No painter can build on a void. (this is one of the reasons that conceptual art is often unpopular with painters – it has divorced itself from any of the ‘grand narratives’ that run like threads through the history of painting. it has set itself on a void)

When Rouault mentioned certain influences in one of his early canvases, Degas replied ‘And have you ever seen anyone born by his unaided effort?’

The young or beginning painter does not have to make a choice between his personal vision and his masters, but between certain paintings and other certain paintings. If he did not derive his vision from some other painter or painters, he would have to re-invent the art of painting itself!
How many people suddenly leap up and cry ‘I will be a painter!’ – its a gradually developed vocation that stems from a love of art and especially paintings.

The early copies are the first moves toward participating in the world of art, becoming a fellow-artist – these develop into the pastiche, which then develops into ‘influenced by’ or ‘school of’, then gradually, as the young painter learns and absorbs and matures, their own vision and ‘genius’ begins to emerge butterfly like from it’s early chrysalis, gradually these influences recede and grow dimmer, then finally the work becomes something that the artist can say truly did not exist before – the history is displaced and the painter finds their own voice.

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