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'We Were Blown Away': How New A.I. Research Is Changing the Way Conservators and Collectors Think About Attribution

‘We Were Blown Away’: How New A.I. Research Is Changing the Way Conservators and Collectors Think About Attribution

“Accuracy when using A.I. and neural networks in large measure relies on the quality of the data,” she said. “We use a two-step authentication method to gather reliable data that filters out fakes and unreliable images, making sure that the training images are referenced to existing catalogue raisonnés. We work with art historians to offer our clients an unbiased report about an individual painting or body of work.”

She noted that their method can provide collectors with accurate results that can tell both an original artwork or style by an artist, provided there are enough images to train the neural network on. According to Popovici, about 100 images are needed in order to garner accurate results, but they often work with many more. For their database on Cézanne, for example, they work with 850 high-resolution images of the artist’s work.

In the past, Art Recognition has been accredited with authenticating a disputed painting by Peter Paul Reubens, but admits that the process is not always perfect. “AI has its limitations when it comes to authenticating art works,” Popovici said. “But we believe that this can offer one method among many to provide insight into who created an artwork.”

A heat map of the same Van Gogh self-portrait. Photo: Art Recognition.

Singer agrees, noting that while the method may not be foolproof, A.I. and machine learning have come a long way in the realm of art authentication.

“We like to think of it as one tool among many,” Singer said. “The goal is to refine the method and make it better over time.” To this end, he and his team have collaborated with Madrid-based company Factum Arte to turn its bespoke Lucida 3D scanner onto El Greco’s (1609), which was damaged and restored following the Spanish Civil War. The painting was photographed both before and after restoration, making the researchers’ job easier when it comes to identifying areas of the canvas not painted by the artist’s hand.

“In this case, we can look at the El Greco from a conservator’s perspective and assist them in identifying areas not painted by the artist,” Singer said.

This project led to a new study that Singer and his team are working on, also with students from the Cleveland Institute of Art, which they hope will be able to identify where there are different hands at play on a single work of art.

During and after the Renaissance, Western artists often employed schools of assistants in their workshops to render various areas of a canvas. All of these hands, according to Singer, may now get the recognition—and attribution—they deserve.


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