Is it legal to copy artwork? And no, let’s not talk about counterfeiters

Most of us struggle to draw a realistic tree, but people like Andréa Dlouha can reproduce not only reality but also the artwork of others, with precision. In his studio in Paris, Dlouha has faithfully copied dozens of works created by some of art history’s biggest names, from Picasso to Van Gogh, who pass through Renoir. Sometimes people even order duplicates of family artwork and portraits of her ancestors.

“I have no favorite period,” says Dlouha. “It goes in moments and according to people’s wishes. There are wonderful aspects to all times. “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 surprised at our interest in her work, despite she is one of the last people to make art reproductions in the country, with clients all over the world.

During the nineteenth century, handmade reproductions were in demand. But with the advent of technology, printed copies of famous paintings have become a cheap and widespread solution and niche that was once a very 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 also uses historical techniques to create them. For example, he paints mainly with pigments obtained as they once did. “This is an oil that was produced as it was made in the 16th century,” he explains, taking a can from a shelf. “You have to cook it on the fire for two hours.”

Previously, professional painters had only five basic colors to work with, which they mixed together to create a palette. “This is how they got harmonious and never too bright paintings,” explains Dlouha. At that time, reproduction was considered an art form in its own right, inherited 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 making a cake without a recipe,” he says. He draws inspiration from art restoration studios and tries to see the original works live whenever possible, as the colors are always slightly different on posters or books.

The work of a person who reproduces works of art should not be confused with the person who forges them. First, to make a legal copy of a work, it does not have to have any copyright over it. In France [ma anche in italia], a painting is considered public property when more than 70 years have passed since the author’s death. You can also not reproduce the painting in its original size. You must also brand the back of the copy and finally it is forbidden to imitate the original painter’s signature.

French museums are happy to welcome breeders. You have to ask permission to paint directly in front of a picture, but they usually give it without problems during the week, as there are not that many visitors. Dlouha has even traveled abroad to take a closer look at a painting; she recently went to Germany to watch a Breughel. “It’s a kind of inner depression,” he says. “I’ll stay there for a while, I’ll go, then I’ll come back.”

Despite the passion he shows for his profession today, Dlouha has not always dreamed of becoming an artist. She was previously a biologist and worked for several years in the pharmaceutical industry, but the job did not motivate her very much. At one point, he decided to paint a picture to place it in his home – his first copy, which was not good, he admits. “The moment of truth came when I lost my job,” he says. “I had financial problems and it was at that time that I decided to take advantage of the moment – and it worked.”

Dlouha left everything behind and opened a workshop. She has no experience of specific studies, she simply learned on her own. It took him 20 years to perfect his technology and make it a career. At first, the decision scared loved ones around her. “People used to say to me, ‘why try 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 a little patience, as it takes about a year to complete a painting. Its prices are commensurate with the duration and effort of the exercise, starting at € 1,500 for a small painting, reaching tens of thousands of euros, depending on the severity and size of the reproduction. Obviously, Dlouha can not make paintings of any size: they still have to pass through the doors of his studio, which measures 2.20 meters in height.

In addition to selling his works, Dlouha teaches the craft to his students – who are usually beginners or people studying how to restore the classics of art. The day we meet, Dlouha finishes one of his lessons. As the students walk, I notice their admiring glances.

When I ask her if she does not find it frustrating to be so good but just make copies, Dlouha answers that the question echoes an eternal debate in the art world. Some people see those who make reproductions as purely technicians, others say that they are artists throughout.

Dlouha does not think she has enough time to devote to her own paintings, as she has too many requests. Not to mention that “if you are an artist who makes reproductions, you have the weight of 500 years of classic paintings on your shoulders,” he says. “Sometimes it’s hard to get away.”

In the end, Dlouha is happy with her work. “It’s not creative art, but you still have to invent yourself with every single copy.” In addition, he makes good money. “All that romantic notion of the starving artist – it never felt romantic to me,” he says, laughing.

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