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Richard Prince's Art, Fair Use or Piracy?

Updated on January 14, 2017

$1.3 Million Krantz/Prince Marlboro Man Photo

Jim Krantz's 1997 photo "Stretchin' Out" taken for a Marlboro ad

Richard Prince's "Art"

In the 1970s Richard Prince became known as a pioneer in "appropriation art" by photographing other photographs, usually from magazine ads, enlarging them and exhibiting them in art galleries. One of his photographs from a Marlboro ad sold by Christie's for $1.3 million, a record for any photograph. The original of this picture as well as another copied by Richard Prince which sold for $332,000 by Christie's, was taken by Richard Krantz on assignment for Marlboro cigarettes ads.

Mr. Krantz and others whose photographs Mr. Prince has "borrowed" have expressed concern over this use of their work. Mr. Krantz's advertiser clients in most cases own the copyrights to the photographs copied and sold as art by Mr. Prince. The Guggenheim Museum in New York is currently holding a 30-year retrospective of Mr. Prince's work.

The NY Times article by Randy Kennedy 12-6-07 linked below raises interesting questions about the nature of art, fair use and copyright protection. Apparently the working definition of art in the art auction and museum world includes photographs copied from the work of other photographers.

Richard Prince Photo, original or copy?

Lois Greenfield photo (right) and "Red Ribbon" by Jill Pankey (left)
Lois Greenfield photo (right) and "Red Ribbon" by Jill Pankey (left) | Source
Photo of a huge photographic enlargement of John Singer Sargent's "Madam X" which I ran across at Macy's department store recently.
Photo of a huge photographic enlargement of John Singer Sargent's "Madam X" which I ran across at Macy's department store recently. | Source
Madam X by John Singer Sargent
Madam X by John Singer Sargent | Source

Madame X or Portrait of Madame X is the informal title of a portrait painting by John Singer Sargent of a young socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, wife of Pierre Gautreau. The model was an American expatriate who married a French banker, and became notorious in Parisian high society for her beauty and rumored infidelities. She wore lavender powder and prided herself on her appearance.

Madame X was painted not as a commission, but at the request of Sargent.[1] It is a study in opposition. Sargent shows a woman posing in a black satin dress with jeweled straps, a dress that reveals and hides at the same time. The portrait is characterized by the pale flesh tone of the subject contrasted against a dark colored dress and background.

For Sargent, the scandal resulting from the painting's controversial reception at the Paris Salon of 1884 amounted to the failure of a strategy to build a long-term career as a portrait painter in France.[2]


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    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 14 months ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Mr. Prince, in an act of protest against her father, President-elect Donald J. Trump, said in an interview Thursday that he had returned a $36,000 payment that he received in 2014 for a work that depicts Ms. Trump and that she posed next to in an Instagram post. Mr. Prince first announced his decision in a series of tweets, saying that he was disavowing the work. In language that echoed Mr. Trump’s rhetoric, he called his own work “fake” and added, “I denounce.”

    • profile image

      yapity 2 years ago

      Honestly disgusts me that Richard Prince's work is seen as fair use and original, and yet someone downloading songs and movies on the internet for personal use is a criminal.

      Just goes to show you, copyright law is just about whoever has the most money. Richard Prince has money, so he can steal people's images as much as he wants.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 4 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      2-22-14NYTimes "Photographers Band Together to Protect Work in 'Fair Use' Cases" Patricia Cohen

      Log In - The New York Times

      "To many photographers, a federal appeals court ruling last spring that permitted Prince to use someone else’s photographs in his art was akin to slapping a “Steal This” label on their work. "The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit reasoned that as long as Mr. Prince’s work transformed the images into original art, he was not violating anyone’s copyright.

      "But photographers are pushing back against that interpretation. Several membership and trade organizations have banded together recently to press their cause in Congress and the courts..."

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 4 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      4-26-13NYTimes--Richard Prince Wins in Fair Use Case

      Appeals Court Overturns Case Against Richard Prince -

      In a case with broad implications for the art world, a court decided largely in favor of the appropriation artist, who made use of work by the photographer Patrick Cariou without permission.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 5 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      1-8-12Richard Prince Art Piracy Case in Appeals Court

      Richard Prince piracy case in appeals court CriticalMob

      With an appeal scheduled in the next couple of months, Richard Prince's copyright infringement trial ordeal has been one of the most important events to affect the world of art. The crux of the ruling hangs upon whether art appropriation is legal.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 6 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Richard Prince lawsuit focuses on limits of appropriation/fair use by artists.

    • nikki1 profile image

      nikki1 8 years ago

      wow, the second photo is a copy. Shame on Marlboros commerical. Can't stand those cancer sticks. They are a silent killer.Great article thou. Sorry for sounding negative at first. Have a great day.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 10 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Tnx for the comments!

    • Earth Angel profile image

      Earth Angel 10 years ago

      GREAT Hub Paul!! Thank you for sharing!! Beside writing, I create original watercolors and produce my own giclee's!! With just my tiny bit of expertise, and a four-foot wide format HP, I have learned to duplicate my own work so well even trained artists find it hard to tell the difference!! I deal with copyright issues all the time!! Not just for writing but for images as well!! And as you might imagine, I am a huge proponent of honoring the original copyright holder!! GREAT Hub!! Thank you for sharing!!

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 10 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      This is incredible! I think I'll buy a camera -- actually I have one on my cell phone, but I didn't know how valuable could be.