A 1986 painting by Christian Silvain (left) and a 1994 version by Ye Yongqing (right). Photo: Google

Chinese painter Ye Yongqing, who was accused of copying works by Belgian artist Christian Silvain, claims that his versions are now selling for much more money than the originals. But he is still ostracized by art critics, who say he has embarrassed his country.

Ye, 61, has been turning out pictures for more than 30 years that bear a striking resemblance to works by Silvain, and admits he has been deeply influenced by the 69 year-old Belgian.  He once explained that he had “exhaled the old and inhaled the new”.

This new work is now attracting attention from artlovers, with Ye reportedly fetching €600,000 (US$681,600) for one picture at auction house Christie’s. He claims that a similar painting by Silvain sold for only €6,000 (US$6,800).

Yu, who is known for his pictures of birds, sold 387 works at auction for a total of 163 million yuan (US$24.3 million) and his paintings are now hanging in galleries like 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 250,000 yuan (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.

Silvain recently accused Ye of copying his work, and the Chinese said he is trying to get in touch with the painter, according to Southern Metropolis Daily. Ye is not the first mainland artist to be accused of selling reproductions in a country notorious for unauthorised copying: art professor Fan Yu was sacked for copying works by British illustrator Russell Cobb for a poster series, in an incident that rocked art circles in China.

Despite his growing fame and role as a mentor for younger artists, Ye has not been forgiven by art critics, who still say he is a copycat. One critic, Jia Fangzhou, wrote in an opinion piece in Art News: “And because of his status and influence in China’s contemporary art scene, the entire circle is humiliated – so are the critics who have spoken positively about him and those who voted for him in competitions.”

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