Science

Van Gogh recreated using X-rays and artificial intelligence

In early September 2022, the Focus Art Fair at the Carrousel du Louvres in Paris featured nothing less than a painting by Vincent van Gogh that has never been exhibited. Representing a hand-to-hand fight between two wrestlers, it was discovered in 2012 under a still life with wild flowers in a vase with the signature … Van Gogh! At that time, art historians from the University of Antwerp (Netherlands), trying to confirm that the Flemish artist really was the author and used X-rays, unwittingly identified two athletes during the operation. The still life was painted over it in 1886, when Van Gogh studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. A letter to his brother Theo testifies that the artist painted these two wrestlers well.

Nude woman behind Picasso

Of course, x-rays oblige, the two scenes are mixed up in the 2012 performances. However, since 2019, two University College London researchers, machine learning and neuroscientist Anthony Burashed and physicist George Kann, have been using artificial intelligence to recreate paintings that disappeared after the artist painted something else on top of them. This is the NeoMasters project that gave rise to the startup Oxia Palus. It all started with a portrait of a naked woman wearing a mask in Picasso’s “The Old Blind Guitarist” (1903) and a landscape view of the Labyrinth Park in Barcelona, ​​overlaid with “The Rejection of Misfortune” (1902) by the same artist.

The process begins by sorting the strokes of the overlapping paintings. X-rays do give confused and not very clear images. Thus, researchers manually remove elements from the digitized images that cannot be present in the latent picture. For example, the flowers in the fight scene.

Full contour drawing

But they also use algorithms learned from other works by the respective artist to refine and complete the layout of the scene being reanimated. The new image thus obtained is a kind of colored drawing. And that’s exactly what the researchers did, or at least their AI tools did. The founders of Oxia Palus had another algorithm study Van Gogh’s style, his use of colors and his strokes across hundreds of paintings by the master. From which the neural network generated its colored version of what could have been an image of two wrestlers drawn by Van Gogh.

As always in AI, nothing is certain: it’s a prediction from an existing database. But unlike their early work on Picasso, the researchers went so far as to 3D print the canvas for a show in Paris. She’s not the only one: the same process was used to 3D print a naked woman from behind. To get the outlines, the researchers transferred their algorithm to oil on canvas. Plaster figurine: female torso, front view. This work was discovered under the painting “La Crau with a View of Montmajour”, which is suspected to have been painted by Van Gogh. To be fair, however, neither of the two recreated paintings is signed by Van Gogh. Written by Neo Van Gogh.

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