The Chinese village responsible for 60% of the world's oil paintings

Looking for a Da Vinci replica or a Warhol rip off? The small town of Dafen is where you need to look.

Neil Churchill January 27, 2015

You're not the only one who hasn't heard of the small Chinese town of Dafen.

Located just outside of Shenzhen in the south-eastern province of Guangdong, the village is fairly nondescript. However, it does have the startling title of producing over 60 per cent of the world's oil paintings.

As incredible as the production rate is, the vast majority of Dafen's output are not original pieces. Replicas are a big business in the art world, and the residents of this small Chinese town know that better than most.

What started in the 1990s when a group of twenty artists arrived in the village, has snowballed into thousands of resident artists producing dozens of replicas every day for the mass market, making Dafen the world's single biggest producer of oil paintings.

Replicas of famous works by Van Gogh, Dali, Da Vinci, Rembrandt and Warhol pour out of the studios on an invisible conveyer belt of rip off art. The 'artists' themselves are not mere hands. Many of them were trained at art academies in China but soon discovered it was far harder to earn a living from their own paintings than it was to replicate world-famous works.

Founded by painter and businessman Huang Jiang, the production run is all part of a well-oiled machine. Colours are divided among the artists, allowing a team to work on up to 10 identical paintings at one time, each artist responsible for their own colour. It's certainly not as romantic a scene as Da Vinci spending weeks torturing himself over one of his masterpieces, but no one can argue it isn't effective. Dafen art town China.

The supply is not without its demand. Prices on the town's website - www.dafenvillageonline.com - average around $60 - AED 220 - with orders coming from all over the world, although mainly the West.

Unsurprisingly, Dafen's production of replica paintings hasn't gone by unnoticed from the 'authentic' art world. Intellectual-property rights is the pertinent question mark hanging over the village, but the authorities say according to Chinese law, reproduction of artwork is allowed if the artist in question has been dead for more than 50 years. Dafen art town China. However, that would rule out Warhol who died in 1987 and Dali, 1989. And yet thousands of replicas of both artists' works still pour out of the town. The only requirement that is made, and which the town abides by it seems, is that the replicas are described as just that.

The village does also sell original works by some of its resident artists, and buyers can even commission pieces for fairly low prices. However it is the replicas that account for the majority of its production rate, and in kind, for 60 per cent of the world's oil paintings. Dafen art town China.