Dafen, China – Where All the Paintings Come From

Dafen, China oil paintings - Xu ZanPeng
I’m not certain how the statistic was arrived at, but the figure being bandied about is that 60% of the world’s paintings come from a single village in China.

Dafen (Dafen shequ) is actually more of a suburb than a village, lying outside Shenzhen, a city of 10 million northeast of Hong Kong. In the early 1990’s a group of 20 or so artists moved to the area at the urging and under the guidance of artist/businessman Huang Jiang, and began turning out quantities of replicas of famous paintings by artists like Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Dali, Rembrandt, the French Impressionists and others.

The enterprise became wildly successful and more artists were recruited, a number now believed to be in the thousands. The paintings are sold through a number of outlets, both brick-and-mortar and online (do a Google search for Dafen paintings), while some of them are original in design (think ads for “starving artist sales” and cheap “sofa sized paintings”), most are copies of famous paintings and are clearly promoted as replicas.

Dafen, China oil paintingsWhile there are replica painting enterprises with similar processes in other countries (notably Russia), nothing approaches the scale of the output from Dafen.

The area has become a gated community, with a large sculpture of a hand with paintbrush outside its gates, and indulges in its identity as an art center, even to the point of facsimile painting “matches”, in which a hundred or more painters compete in creating replicas of the same painting in a timed event (image at left – AP).

The site and journal for REGIONAL, a design and research network whose founders are currently working in Shenzhen, commissioned some of the Dafen painters (many of whom studied at art academies) to turn their painting skills from painting replicas to painting self-portraits. A few of them are posted along with the article Self-Portraiture and emerging artistic consciousness in Dafen ‘Oil Painting’ Village, accompanied by a photo of the artist and one of their representative facsimile works.

The images at top, taken from the article, are of painter Xu ZanPeng, who specializes in Russian Baroque painters, including a detail of one of her replica paintings of Kramskoy’s Unknown Woman (see my recent post on Ivan Kramskoy).

I doubt there is any town in the world into which oil paint, brushes and canvas are trucked in, and paintings trucked out, in such quantities. According to the Chicago Tribune, Dafen shipped over $120 million in paintings last year, which is a lot when you consider that the prices are usually quite low.

I guess it’s good that there’s a large worldwide market for oil paintings, even if it’s not exactly the kind of market for which we might have hoped.

[Link to REGIONAL article via BoingBoing]


11 Replies to “Dafen, China – Where All the Paintings Come From”

  1. Absolutely fascinating.

    In a related vein, you can sometimes acquire fully painted, highly detailed, complex backgrounds for cartoons on ebay for a mere pittance– between $10 and $30 for an oversize painting. Some are drek, but many of them are beautifully done. And you ask yourself, how can they possibly sell something that took a highly talented artist a full day or two for $10? The answer, when you receive the art in the mail, is that it was done in China on an assembly line basis for below subsistence wages. The market being what it is, any new projects that can be shipped overseas may very well end up being done over there.

  2. I’m not sure how much this cuts into the regular art market. These are mostly reproductions of famous paintings, and if they replace anything, it would largely be prints of the same images.

    The key for other painters might be to get the word out to people that unique original paintings of high quality (albeit small ones) can be found for similar prices to painted facsimiles.

    This is happening, I think, with the “painting a day” phenomenon where artists are selling small paintings directly to buyers over the internet.

  3. After reading more into it, these artists work 12 hours a day. Thats incredible, but too bad the original art (or repros) seems to lack something, like that extra step to make it special. Anyway, I pray everyday for that work ethic, and really enjoyed this entry.

  4. I guess I am just too idealist. I rather hang Van Gogh’s Starry Night Print instead of Mr.Wang’s after Van Gogh’s Starry Night Original. It just not the same. But on the other hand, I feel sympathetic for those artists in china who have to paint 20 paintings a day just to get paid a day’s wage. I am sure most of them have their own imaginations and creativity. sad…

  5. Am very happy to see differents details and drawings of yours ,am small cartoonist from East Africa Tanzania . i need help from you on how i can sell my works
    cartoons and other drawings +painting
    please i need your help

  6. It is terrible to see such obviously gifted artists used in such a debasing manner.Where does it stop.I have in my collection an albumn of very good figures from the water margin attributed to the Shanghai or earlier period signed with calligraphy from QIAN SHIXIN.They are of such good quality I let the National Gallery of Scotland look at them .A gain an earlier type of not quite forgery but if you put these alongside CHEN HONGSHUES paintings only a very good expert will distinguish

  7. update on my ALBUM. It now seems that these are original paintings, and are creating quite a stir. Problem is there were so many artists copying one another it is difficult to say who painted what.I find this quite tragic when things of obvious importance have to be teated as potential fakes because of the greed of a few CROOKS.That is the only way to describe these people,chinese art is exquisite and soon these original artists be they very early or from the Shanghai trading era will get their just recognition on the World market.

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