X-rays, AI and 3D printing bring lost Van Gogh artwork to life
Image credit: UCL/Van Gogh
Researchers at UCL have reconstructed a long-concealed work of art by renowned painter Vincent Van Gogh using X-rays, AI and 3D printing, 135 years after he painted over it.
The researchers have dubbed the recovered artwork as ‘The Two Wrestlers’, which depicts two shirtless athletes grappling in front of an abstract background. The Dutch painter reused the canvas for an unrelated painting depicting flowers.
It’s the latest in a series of recreations by PhD researchers Anthony Bourached (UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology) and George Cann (UCL Space and Climate Physics).
Working with artist Jesper Eriksson, the UCL duo’s NeoMasters project brings lost works of art to life and has been a series the team has been working on since 2019.
The team is using a newly developed process that uses X-ray imaging to see through every layer of paint, artificial intelligence (AI) to extrapolate the style used by the artist, and 3D printing to produce the final piece.
Bourached says: “How much it is like the original painting is impossible to tell at this point because the information doesn’t exist. I think it’s very convincing - by far the best guess we can get with current technology.”
The obscured image was first discovered in 2012 when art experts at the University of Antwerp investigated whether the work 'Still Life with Meadow Flowers and Roses' was an authentic Van Gogh.
The researchers examining the artwork used X-rays to peer through the layers of paint and discovered two ghostly figures that had been painted over.
The covered-over wrestlers displayed brush strokes and pigments that were consistent with Van Gogh, and the subject was also a common theme at the Antwerp Art Academy where Van Gogh was studying in 1886, authenticating the work.
“This week I painted a large thing with two nude torsos — two wrestlers… and I really like doing that,” Van Gogh wrote in a letter to his brother Theo in January 1886.
Bourached and Cann developed a series of algorithms that identified the edges and created an outline of the figures from the X-ray data. They then used a neural network that learned from hundreds of other Van Gogh works to predict the style of colours, details, and brushstrokes of the painting. Finally, the team used a 3D printer to construct the final art piece.
Using similar image analysis and fabrication techniques, the team could resurrect other images that had been considered lost for many years. In 2021, the team first recreated a painted-over image of a crouching nude woman beneath the painting 'The Blind Man’s Meal' by Pablo Picasso.
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