19 January 2011

Dafen - China's Oil Painting Village

By Guest Blogger Dan Lewis
Editor of Now I Know

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You may have noticed that hotels have the same oil painting in each room.  Or that you can get a replica Starry Night or Mona Lisa (like the one at the top of this post) for roughly the price of a high-end Kindle.   If you think that the oil painting reproduction game is a cottage industry, you're almost correct: it's a village industry.

In this case, it's the village of Dafen, China.  Founded in the mid-1990s by a businessman and about twenty artists, Dafen is now home to 5,000 artists -- who, collectively, churn out over 5 million paintings a year.  That's more than half of the oil paintings produced in the entire world each year.

Although you can order over the internet, the cheapest way to acquire Dafen art is to go there yourself - and there is always someone willing to talk to you.

Most of the artwork is entirely legal, at least under Chinese law.  Works fall out of copyright protection after fifty years, so the non-original work such as the two featured above are free and clear.   And while they can retail for hundreds of dollars in the United States, the artwork -- which quite literally on every street corner in Dafen -- goes for about $40 for even the most sought-after works in the area.

The quality of the work?  It's very good.  Not perfect, of course, but these are made by artists, not mere painters.  All of the (re-)creators are trained at art academies; to the extent that the if quality suffers, it is because they are expected to produce dozens of replicas weekly.

You can even have a painting done to order - in this case a reproduction of a very famous photograph.  However, sometimes the painters practice a form of censorship.  Now you see him.

Now you don't.

Of course, this would not be China unless there was some unintentional mangling of the English language.  Dafen not only produces paintings, it caters for woodcaring too.

Bonus fact: Reproducing three or more oil paintings a week means long, grueling hours.  Such hours would preclude these painters from taking up a very odd hobby demonstrated by a man in the UK -- wiggling one's way into the background of news telecasts.  Paul Yarrow spends an incredible amount of time doing exactly that, appearing in the backdrop of almost two dozen television broadcasts over the last year or so.