When Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Still Life’ depicting meadow flowers and roses was x-rayed, another work of art was confirmed behind it. The Dutch painter, still a student at the time, had spoken about it to his brother, Theo, on January 22, 1886: “This week I painted something big with two bare torsos, two wrestlers”.
The work, now in the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Netherlands, has been recreated with the help of science and technology, 135 years after Van Gogh painted it on the 100x80cm canvas and then covered it with the flowers of the ‘Still Life’ .
Two British experts brought the previous composition back to life in full color and three-dimensional textured strokes in an effort that took five months.
Neuroscientist Anthony Buracht and physicist George Kahn – both PhD candidates at University College London – collaborated with mathematician Jesper Eriksson on the use of X-rays, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and 3D printing.
Burachd, a high-dimensional neuroscientist who tries to model human behavior through artificial intelligence, told the Telegraph that the team worked with an algorithm to simulate what the original painting might have looked like by analyzing Van Gogh’s brushstrokes in hundreds of tables: “How similar it is to the original painting is impossible to say for sure because we have no other information. I think what we’ve built is very convincing – by far the best guess we can have with current technology.”. Simply put, no one can say that this is a faithful copy of the original work, but it is the most ideal approximation of Van Gogh’s style, based on the general outlines depicted in the X-ray. It is “a statistical method of interpretation”.
Poverty or frustration?
Many artists used to reuse canvases, either because they could not afford new materials, or because they were dissatisfied with what they had originally made and started to paint over something new. Why the brooding Dutch painter did so, however, is unknown.
In 1885, the already 35-year-old Van Gogh was enrolled in the School of Fine Arts in Antwerp and part of the lessons he was taking was painting wrestlers. “I really like doing this”he himself told his brother, a year later, in Paris.
The X-ray that revealed Van Gogh’s Wrestlers was among the discoveries made in 2012 by researchers at the University of Antwerp, led by Professor Cohen Janens.
The work, as recreated, will be exhibited in the first days of September in the underground shopping center Carrousel du Louvre in Paris, and offers for its purchase are expected to exceed ten thousand pounds (about 11.5 thousand euros).
This is the first attempt to recreate a “hidden” Van Gogh. In the past, the same process was followed for a Picasso painting of a nude woman, nearly 120 years after the artist painted on it something completely different: The Blind Man’s Meal, which is on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection. New York.
Scientists estimate that there must be thousands of works of art hidden beneath existing paintings.
The resurrection of the lost art
“The ‘resurrection’ of the world’s lost art has just begun”. David J. Stork, author of a forthcoming book titled “Pixels & Paintings: Foundations of Computer-Assisted Connoisseurship,” said: “These are results that will certainly improve in the future. Color and accents are definitely a good foundation and we’re moving in the right direction, but we have a way to go. This is just one technique in the coming revolution, using computers as tools in knowledge.”.
The re-creation of the play has drawn mixed reactions, reports the Telegraph.
Professor and art historian Emily Spratts at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York described it as “a bold project”for which technology was used to understand the project.
“I think it also raises a number of ethical issues”points out. “Maybe Van Gogh didn’t want people to see what he had painted. Maybe that’s why he didn’t finish it. Shouldn’t it be taken into account that for some reason he didn’t finish it?’.
Responding to this critical view, Buracht said: “When we study History, we don’t look at what the politicians wanted us to know about them. It’s much more important for us to know the absolute truth as much as possible… Why do we think differently about artists?”.
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