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How Monet ends up on a mousepad for $10.95

Dan Weissmann Jun 20, 2014
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When one of Monet’s iconic “water lilies” paintings goes up for auction at Soetheby’s on Monday, bids will start at $33 million. But a nice cocktail shaker can be had for just under $26.  

This would never happen to Matisse.Anyone wanting to put one of his famed paper cut-outs on a coffee mug— or an Andy Warhol, or a Jackson Pollock— will have to have to talk with Ted Feder, or one of his employees.

“We’re going to say no, but you have to talk with us,” he says. Asked why the answer will be no, he answers succinctly: “Because of the schlock factor.”

Feder runs the Artist Rights Society, which represents the estates of many of 20th-Century art’s greatest hit-makers, including Picasso, Rene Magritte, and Georgia O’Keefe.

But not Monet. Copyright in the U.S. expires 70 years after the artist dies. Monet died in 1926, so his work has been public domain since 1996. Since then, says Feder, “People are free to commit mayhem on his work and do whatever they want.”

Much of that mayhem is done by Art Plates.  “We do switch plates, mousepads, coffee mugs,” says the company’s sales director, Mike Mason. “And our travel mug, which is our famous Mugzie.”

In any museum gift shop, Mason says, the set of Monet drink coasters on offer was probably made in his company’s California factory. The shop’s twenty workers and their 14 machines can turn out up to 5,000 pieces a day.

Van Gogh has been the hottest seller for the last year, he says, but some things are evergreen. “Monet does very, very well. The brighter and more vivid the color, the more it shows up on different items.”  

At the online gift shop operated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a search for “Monet” yields 72 results. Mason says some are his, but this slim-fit t-shirt isn’t one of them. “That we don’t do,” he says. “No clothing.”

Staff from the Metropolitan could not be reached for comment on the shop’s Monet-themed items.

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