Left: An artwork by Belgian painter Christian Silvain in 1990. Right: A work made by Chinese painter Ye Yongqing in 1994.
Renowned contemporary Chinese artist Ye Yongqing has been ordered to pay compensation of 5 million yuan (US$684,200) to Belgian painter Christian Silvain for plagiarism, a Beijing court ruled recently.
The Beijing Intellectual Property Court also ordered that Ye cease his infringing behavior immediately and make a public apology in the media to Silvain.
Silvain, the 73-year-old Belgian artist, confirmed the news of his victory on his Facebook page on August 31, writing: “I am pleased to announce that after 4 years of waiting, we have won our case in China. The plagiarism of my work has been clearly recognized by the Beijing court.”
Christian Silvain’s Facebook account relays the success of his lawsuit.
Born in southwest China’s Yunnan Province in 1958, Ye graduated from the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in 1982 and became a professor of oil painting at the institute after his graduation. He shot to fame in the 2000s, with solo exhibitions held in many cities around the world. In 2018, he received an Art Power 100 award, one of China’s top art accolades.
Silvain was born in 1950 in Eupen, Belgium. He is a self-taught artist of the contemporary scene and is far less well-known than Ye in China.
In 2019, Silvain told local media he had discovered that Chinese artist Ye had plagiarized his work for 30 years. “Birds, bird nests, bird cages, red crosses, airplanes … everything is there! Except my name, otherwise it looks exactly the same!”
The bird elements mentioned by Silvain have been important symbols in Ye’s works since 2000.
Chinese artist Ye Yongqing.
That same year, Silvain filed a lawsuit claiming that Ye Yongqing had plagiarized 87 of his works for over 25 years.
Most of the works involved in the plagiarism were created by Silvain in the 1980s and then similar by Ye in the 1990s. Some of Ye’s work after 2000 also used elements from Silvain’s paintings.
The Belgian also complained that Ye copied his works to seek profit and asked for compensation of over 50 million yuan, along with a public apology. Ye defended himself and did not agree with all of Silvain’s legal claims.
Ye, whose buyers are said to include Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch, is very popular in the domestic auction market, with several of his works fetching over 1 million yuan, and the highest price for one of his works exceeding 6 million yuan.
Silvain’s works sell at 5,000 (US$5,362) to 15,000 euros each, according to a Belgian media outlet.
The Belgian artist Christian Silvain
In August 2023, after review and determination by the Beijing Intellectual Property Court, the scope of the infringed paintings in the case totaled 122, with Silvain’s works involved in the case completed in March 1990. Ye Yongqing admitted to having contact with the copyrighted paintings involved in the case in 1993.
Ye had not made any comment about the court result as of press time.