Collectors Turn to Artful Reproductions

ART collectors who can afford more than a poster of a major painting but not the work itself sometimes choose to purchase a reproduction, painted by a contemporary artist brushstroke for brushstroke from the original. Such copies generally sell for between $100 and $15,000, depending upon the size of the picture, the artist, and whether or not the picture is ``antiqued'' and ``crackled'' to give it a more ancient look. With skyrocketing prices for major paintings, and the interest in these works spurred by the attention the high prices has engendered, the reproduction field has become a growth area of the art world, with individual artists and companies (representing a stable of artists who do reproductions) offering their services.

``We're currently selling 1,000 paintings per month,'' Rusty White, president of the Bianco Collection in Atlanta, Ga., says. ``We've sold to Burt Reynolds; we've sold to auction companies; we sell to people who want a beautiful painting but don't want to have to pay $9 million for it.''

The Bianco Collection, founded in 1988, works with approximately 100 artists all over the country, most of whom specialize in a particular artist or style, such as Rembrandt or French Impressionism. To lessen any chance of confusion, each work reproduced comes with a certificate indicating that it is a copy and, unless the buyer specifically asks that the work be created to the same size specifications as the original, the reproduction is done a little smaller.

According to the company's director of marketing, Sparrow Marciano, each artist has put in time to study particular artists and will use the same type of oil and canvas used for the original painting. The artists making the copies earn half the retail price which, at Bianco, ranges from $600 to $15,000.

It is all legal, since copyright law protects an artist's work only until the time of death plus 50 years. The majority of the most sought-after artists have been dead much longer than that. ``The French Impressionists I would say are our biggest sellers - Monet, Degas, Renoir,'' White says. ``But there is also a lot of interest in the Western artists - [Frederic] Remington and [Charles M.] Russell.''

Artists face stiff competition from machines in the reproduction field, specifically computers. In the past, the most financially successful use of computers in the arts had been in dance (for choreography), architectural renderings, and design (Benetton clothes are designed on computers). Art reproduction has become a new domain for the machine.

Rudolphe Reproductions of Switzerland and Artagraph of Toronto, Canada, have used CAT scans to provide computers with highly detailed information (including the width and depth of brushstrokes) about a variety of French and Swiss 19th-century paintings. Identical-looking two-dimensional reproductions of these works can then be printed out, in paint rather than ink. These reproductions, which are generally bought framed, are priced between $345 and $795 and have earned high praise from art dealers and officials of Sotheby's auction house.

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