Are there any spells or magic items in D&D 3.5 that would allow the caster/user to copy a work of art? In my current campaign there is an artist(painter) who has been magically making duplicates of his work an selling them as the originals. I need a plausible mechanism for him to do this. The artist himself is not an exceptional magic user meaning he couldn't cast high level spells in order to duplicate paintings.
No effect directly, explicitly, and exactly duplicates an object instantaneously
The game doesn't want this to happen because it then expects the user of such an effect to go around duplicating +5 vorpal scimitars and stuff. Even were such an effect limited to mundane items, duplicating wealth like coins, gems, art objects, and trade goods quickly becomes an issue.
The nearest spell is the 0-level Sor/Wiz spell amanuensis [trans] (Spell Compendium 9), but even that spell remains problematic despite the fact that the "spell copies only nonmagical text, not illustrations or magical writings" because raw text exists that has value beyond the page on which its stored rather than its price as a work of art possessing intrinsic value.
Anyway, there are workarounds, but they require very careful consideration.
Rather than duplicating exactly, making the same thing repeatedly can be done using the 5th-level Sor/Wiz spell fabricate [trans] (PH 229). The magic item Murlynd's hat (Dragon #359 73-4) (72,000 gp; 0 lbs.), in addition to other effects, grants the wearer 3/day the ability to use an effect like the spell fabricate. A plot could be constructed around the painter being beholden to a fellow who occasionally lends the painter such a hat, with the lender seeking revenge after the PCs disrupt his income.
Alternatively, a rejkar (Monster Manual III 140) can use at will as a spell-like fabricate as a level 5 caster.
It can fabricate at will, and it's a genius. Don't judge.
According to the Planar Handbook a caster could substitute the rejkar for another creature on his list of creatures available for the spell summon monster V [conj] (PH 286, 287), but as the rejkar has only 5 Hit Dice it can also be bound using the 5th-level Sor/Wiz spell lesser planar binding [conj] (PH 261-2). Note that a rejkar normally has the Craft skills armorsmithing, carpentry, and weaponsmithing, but a generous DM may allow that to be changed as a house rule either by a skilled caster (e.g. a Knowledge (the planes) skill check (DC 25)) or a caster with an appropriate feat (e.g. Fiendish Summoning Specialist (PlH 39)). Even if it lacks the skill ranks, an untrained rejkar can take 10 on a Craft skill to hit DC 15. (A typical rejkar has an Intelligence score of 20. I'm not even kidding.)
Alternatively, a rejkar could be using the painter instead of vice versa. It's a crafty devil ram with abilities that make it, with some modification, an interesting low-level boss monster. (It's also easier for the DM to justify non-standard skills for a custom rejkar.)
As a spell-like ability fabricate has no material components, making it even more powerful and even more liable to break a campaign's economy casually than typical uses of the spell. Be careful.
The 6th-level corrupt spell consume likeness [necro] (Book of Vile Darkness 89) lends itself to a great many plots. Depending on the DM's interpretation of the spell's duplication of the consumed creature's equipment, the painter may not have even created the painting himself, instead having killed the original artist and cast the spell consume likeness on the original artist's corpse which had on its person at the time the painting that is now so popular and valuable. When the painter needs to sell another, he secretly assumes the likeness of the dead original painter, drops the painting, then assumes his own form once more, painting remaining intact.
This sets an incredibly dangerous precedent, but a manageable one if the spell's kept sufficiently obscure. In addition, the spell's also evil (presumably because cannibalism), and its effect is fragile. (The spell's permanent duration means an effect like dispel magic et al. ends the ersatz painter's consume likeness effect.)
To commit such a plot, a level 2 NPC could've purchased a single scroll of consume likeness (6th-level spell at caster level 11) (1,650 gp; 0 lbs.), committed the murder, and after deciphering the scroll gotten only marginally lucky on the caster level check (DC 12) to cast the spell. Thereafter, he'd likely avoid any possibility of exposure to an effect like the spell dispel magic, maybe even going so far as becoming mysterious recluse (or just buying a ring of counterspells (DMG 230) (4,000 gp; 0 lbs.) or adding his magic weapon the magic weapon special ability spellblade (PG 120) (6,000 gp; 0 lbs.)).
That said, any effect allowing duplicating items of value will be difficult to reign in once introduced. Weigh the ramifications carefully, and be sure to have a backup plan if things start going south, even if that plan is something as dumb as Asmodeus eradicating all the rejkars.
Fabricate, but only if you can make the Craft check
Fabricate will turn paper and paint into a painting in 1 round (unless it’s a really big painting), but it still depends on your skills. Presumably, having something to copy from should reduce the DC, but the rules don’t describe this in any kind of detail.
Fabricate is a 5th-level Sor/Wiz spell, which probably qualifies as “high-level,” though. However, psionic fabricate is also a 4th-level power for shaper psions and ardents with the Creation Mantle; that might help, possibly.
Guidance of the avatar can help with the check
Guidance of the avatar is a 2nd-level cleric spell that grants a +20 bonus on one skill check. You can have a cleric cast it on you, which is convenient since it saves the artist from having to be a cleric with the Artifice or Greed domains (the only ones that get fabricate).
Therefore, if 9th level isn’t too high, and a 7th-level (for the spell slots) cleric assistant isn’t too much to ask for, you’re looking at 10 copies per day. Which still seems kind of ridiculous, and that set-up (guidance of the avatar plus fabricate) could generate something much more impressive.
You can get items of these
A dorje of a 4th-level power like psionic fabricate costs 21,000 gp. A wand of guidance of the avatar costs 4,500 gp. So 25,500 gp for 50 paintings, or 510 gp per painting. A single level of shaper psion or ardent with Creation and a single level of sorcerer, wizard, or cleric with Artifice, Magic, or Greed allows both to be activated without having to make any kind of skill check.
Alternatively, a 1st-level shaper psion or Creation ardent can take ranks in Use Magic Device (either cross-class, or in-class for the ardent using the Magic mantle). The DC to activate any wand is 20, and the use of guidance of the avatar isn’t exactly time-sensitive, so you can just keep attempting to activate it until you get it. If you roll a natural-1 while trying, you are locked out for the rest of the day, but a bonus on the check between +4 and +10 should be pretty easy, so you will most likely get it before you roll a 1. And then the Magic Device Attunement feat from Complete Mage allows you to attune to the wand, so you don’t need another UMD check for the rest of the day.
The opposite is also conceivable: a 1st-level cleric with the Artifice, Magic, or Greed domains can activate a wand of guidance of the avatar as well as a spell-trigger item of fabricate with no checks. The problem is that fabricate is a 5th-level spell, and wands are limited to 4th-level spells. However, a scepter of fabricate is possible: scepters from Lost Empires of Faerûn are spell-trigger devices, like wands, but can contain higher-level spells. The scepter of fabricate would cost 33,750 gp though, raising our cost per painting to 765 gp.
With this combo, burning through all 50 charges on both dorje-or-scepter and wand takes about 10 minutes, and produces 50 paintings. Again, though, the same set up could produce 50 copies of something much more significant than a painting.
Amanuensis doesn’t help, but could provide precendent
Amanuensis is a cantrip from Spell Compendium that rapidly duplicates nonmagical written words. It explicitly cannot copy illustrations or magical text. But it is also just a cantrip: if a cantrip cast as a standard action can be left unattended to copy up to 2,500 words per caster level, flipping pages as necessary, it seems eminently reasonable to have higher-level versions that can do more.
Simply copying a single illustration as a standard action thus seems reasonable as a 1st-level spell, if not a separate cantrip that does just that. An automated painting-copier spell, along the lines of amanuensis, that copies say a square foot of painting per minute and lasts 10 minutes per level, as amanuensis does, starting a new copy each time it completes one, is at best 2nd- or 3rd-level magic.
This is a late answer but for anyone looking to do this plot. A simple method would be to use the vast number of spells that let you duplicate yourself and have the duplicates and yourself each produce an identical painting.