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Spot the difference: the artworks by Ye Yongqing (left) vs Christian Silvain (right)
Spot the difference: the artworks by Ye Yongqing (left) vs Christian Silvain (right)

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Chinese artist accused of ripping off Belgian counterpart

Art collectors are mourning potential financial losses as Chinese artist Ye Yongqing has been accused of copying a Belgian artist's works for years.

Christian Silvain, a painter and sculptor based in Belgium, has claimed Ye copied several of his paintings, and that the copied artworks had sold for higher prices than his own.

A new artwork by Ye reportedly sold for about US$681,600 at auction house Christie’s, while a similar painting by Silvain sold for only about US$6,800.

Silvain alleged that Ye had copied several of his paintings three decades ago.He said several of Ye’s paintings used an identical style and symbols to his works. Silvain is considering taking legal action against Ye. He claimed he had sent multiple "cease and desist" requests via his representatives to Ye, but the latter is still selling his alleged copied works through auction houses.

Ye is known for his pictures of birds and has sold 387 works at auction for a total of RMB 163 million, (US$24.3 million). His paintings are being exhibited at galleries such as the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Singapore Art Museum.

He first made a name internationally in 2010 when one of his artworks fetched RMB 250,000 (US$37,300) at auction, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, media magnate Rupert Murdoch and Taiwan businessmen Lin Mingzhe are said to be among the collectors of his work.

Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, where Ye studied and has worked as a professor, said it has launched an investigation into the matter and insisted it would not tolerate any academic misconduct from faculty members.

Ye has responded to the accusations by denying he copied Sylvain's works and said he has tried to contact Sylvain but had not been able to reach him. The Chinese painter said he had engaged lawyers in Belgium to resolve the matter after the copying accusations.

Weighing in on the matter, Enid Tsui of South China Morning Post wrote in an editorial that "place the two artists’ grid paintings side by side and it is a case of 'spot the difference'. The childlike illustrations, symbols and colour palette are almost identical."

In another recent accusation of plagiarism in the art world, the Sakura art gallery in Paris cancelled an exhibit in February by French artist Guillaume Verda, who had been accused of copying renowned artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Verda's work bore a similarity to Basquiat's work, but he did not acknowledge Basquiat as an influence.

A Twitter user said: “There’s not a single mention of Basquiat’s enormous influence on (Verda’s) ‘work’, which, if I may, allows us to qualify it as a bad copy”.

What do you think of plagiarism in art? Comment below or let us know at our Facebook page.

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Mark Laudi

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