VILNIUS - One may well wonder how a painting like "Women Holding Fruit" by Paul Gauguin could possibly end up in a small gallery in Vilnius. Well, the answer is very simple. It's a copy, and an extremely good one at that.
Daniele Ermeso Donde - the so-called "king of copies" - has brought his formidable cannon of copied classics (or perhaps classic copies) to town in a fascinating new exhibition in which the whole concept of art and value is thrown into total confusion.
Donde specializes in copies of modern masters, such as Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Claude Monet, Gustav Klimt and August Renoir. The originals of these paintings hang in the world's most famous art museums, such as the Louvre, Prada and Hermitage, and between them have enough insurance to cover a small African nation.
And yet, to all except the professional eye of an art expert, the pictures now on display are every bit as good as the real thing.
Professor Donde is well known for having set something of a trend in the art world. His idea of "faux-art" actually continues a time-honored tradition of art copies, but only he does everything to the letter of the law.
Copy art is different from forgery, as it is not created with the intention of deceiving and does not aim to profit by such deception. Faux-art works aren't passed off as originals, even though most people couldn't possibly see the difference. But, of course, the value of the copies is incomparably lower than that of the authentic paintings.
Donde was first attracted to the idea of copy art after he was taken in himself by fraud. As he was having some financial problems, Donde decided to sell off a collection of his family paintings. Unfortunately, 11 out of the 12 pieces turned out to be forgeries. Donde spent several painstaking years tracking down the copyist. Surprisingly, instead of turning him into to the police when he finally found him, Donde offered the man the chance to collaborate with him. In 1984 Sergio Uggi became the first legal artist in Donde's faux-art movement.
Currently, Donde is working with 20 other copy masters at his association La Banca dell'Arte. Among them there is a Picasso imitator that managed to trick even the legendary artist himself. The artists copy world famous paintings in the exact same manner in which they were created, which involves using the same paintbrushes, cloth and paint.
Owners of Donde's meticulously made copies include Pope John Paul II, Prince Albert of Monaco and Sophia Loren. Every painting produced by the company comes with a special copy certificate, which makes it a legitimate work in its own right.
As well as being a wonderful chance for people to see some of the most famous paintings ever made close up (well, sort of), this exhibition is also a good opportunity to muse on the nature of appearance and reality, and the massive price differential between them. o
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