If I had the money to collect naive art, I believe I’d be tempted by this painting, found on the website of All Oil Paint/Masterpiece Oil Paintings Reproduction/Beijing Star Works. All Oil Paint are in the business of copying paintings. For a three-figure sum (or the low four digits, if you want something elaborate by Alma-Tadema), you can buy yourself a copy of a painting your friends and relatives will never in a million years believe you actually own (or, in some cases, want on your wall—All Oil Paint is splendidly indiscriminate that way). At least they don’t copy famous paintings except all the people’s heads are replaced with cat or dog heads, or everyone’s turned into a Botero-balloon—really, they exist, I’ve seen them. And since the only living artist I’ve spotted All Oil Paint ripping off is Thomas Kinkade, their product line bothers me not at all.
On the other hand, it doesn’t tempt me, either. If I wanted to hang Starry Night on my wall, I’d buy an art print of the original. The dubious joys of owning a bad replica of a famous painting are unconnected with the sense of glee I felt on beholding the painting in question—which, to do both it and its original an injustice, might loosely be described as a copy of Giovanni Paolo Panini’s Picture Gallery with Views of Ancient Rome.
I like it because you’d have to be blind to mistake it for the original. The artist has really gotten his teeth into the subject, which isn’t surprising, given that it’s a painting about art and artists. I like the odalisque who’s been turned into a sheep, the gentlemen whose white linen shirt has turned into muttonchop whiskers, the drapery at the foot of the giant urn that’s become a looped-back overskirt worn (with knee breeches) by the guy carrying the box, and the unapologetic way the statues in the hallway have been transformed into chubby adolescent louts. Also, the artist has no idea what’s happening to Laocoon & Sons. The Dying Gaul has simply disappeared. And I think that’s Chinese calligraphy on the prints in the foreground.
It’s fearless, is what it is. The artist is getting stuff wrong because he doesn’t know what he’s seeing, but he’s plunging ahead confidently. The joy of it is that the artists in the painting are doing much the same thing: familiarizing themselves with a body of art by sitting down and copying it. I’m sure that if I could look over their shoulders, they too would be getting stuff wrong in interesting ways.