X-rays, AI and 3D printing bring Van Gogh’s lost works to life

UCL researchers have reconstructed a long-hidden work of art by famed painter Vincent Van Gogh using X-rays, artificial intelligence and 3D printing, 135 years after he painted on it.

The researchers dubbed the recovered artwork “The Two Wrestlers,” which depicts two shirtless athletes wrestling against an abstract background. The Dutch painter reused the canvas for an unrelated painting depicting flowers.

This is 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).

In collaboration with artist Jesper Eriksson, the UCL duo’s NeoMasters project brings lost works of art to life and is a series the team has been working on since 2019.

The team uses a newly developed process that uses X-ray imaging to see through each layer of paint, artificial intelligence (AI) to extrapolate the style used by the artist, and 3D printing to produce the piece. final.

Bourached says, “How closely it resembles the original painting is impossible to say at this point because the information does not exist. I think that’s very compelling – by far the best estimate we can get with current technology. »

From left to right: the overlay painting as it appears today, the x-ray image of the still life with the figures below, the AI-assisted edge detection of the two figures, a CGI rendition of his style and its probable color, and the final 3D printed image.

Image credit: UCL

The obscured image was first discovered in 2012 when art experts from the University of Antwerp investigated whether the work “Still Life with Flowers and Meadow Roses” was an authentic Van Gogh.

Researchers examining the artwork used X-rays to look through the layers of paint and discovered two ghostly figures that had been painted on.

The covered wrestlers displayed brushstrokes and pigments 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 big thing with two bare 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 colors, details and brushstrokes in the painting. Finally, the team used a 3D printer to build the final artwork.

Using similar image analysis and fabrication techniques, the team was able to resurrect other images thought to be lost for many years. In 2021, the team first recreated a painted image of a naked woman crouching beneath Pablo Picasso’s The Blind Man’s Meal.

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