Staring enigmatically at an invisible object to her right, the black-haired woman bears a striking resemblance to the person depicted in Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s painting Gabrielle, which Sotheby’s recently valued at £100,000-150,000.
However, art connoisseurs disagree on whether the work, which is owned by a private Swiss collector, is the real deal. Now the artificial intelligence has stepped in to help settle the dispute, and the computer has judged that it was probably a real Renoir.
AI is increasingly being used to help determine if valuable works of art are real or fake. Earlier this month, Art Recognition, the Swiss company that developed the technology, announced that it had concluded that Switzerland’s only Titian – a work titled Evening Landscape with Couple, held by the Kunsthaus Zürich – does not was probably not painted by the sixteenth-century Venetian artist.
Still, art connoisseurs have warned that AI is only as good as the paintings it is trained on. If they are fake or contain areas that have been retouched, it could create even more uncertainty.
Art Recognition was approached about Renoir, titled Portrait of a Woman (Gabrielle), after the Wildenstein Plattner Institute – one of two institutes that publishes a comprehensive list of all known works of art by Renoir, known as the name of catalogs raisonnés – refused to include it in its list.
The company used photographic reproductions of 206 authentic paintings by the French Impressionist to teach its algorithm about his style, which to human observers is characterized by broken brushstrokes and bold combinations of complementary colors. To increase accuracy, he also split the images into smaller patches and showed them to the algorithm, while training it on a selection of paintings by similarly styled artists who were active around the same time as Renoir.
Based on this assessment, he concluded that there was an 80.58% chance that Portrait of a Woman (Gabrielle) was painted by Renoir.
Carina Popovici, CEO of Art Recognition, believes that this ability to quantify the degree of uncertainty is important. Speaking at a meeting on the use of forensics and technology in the art business at the Art Loss Register in London on Monday, she said: “Connoisseurs often tell art owners that it’s their ‘feeling’ or ‘gut feeling’ that a painting is authentic or not, which can be very frustrating.They really appreciate the fact that we are more specific.
Encouraged by this result, the owner of the painting approached another group of Parisian experts, GP.F.Dauberville & Archives Bernheim-Jeune, which publishes its own catalogs raisonnés works by Renoir. After requesting a scientific analysis of the painting’s pigments, they also concluded that it was a genuine Renoir.
Dr Bendor Grosvenor, an art historian and presenter of Britain’s BBC Four show Lost Masterpieces, was concerned that such technologies would devalue the contribution of experts in assessing the authenticity of a work of art.
“So far, the methods used to ‘train’ AI programs, and the fact that they say they can judge an attribution just from an iPhone photo, are unimpressive,” he said. -he declares.
“Technology is particularly weak in its inability to take into account the condition of a painting – so many Old Master paintings are damaged and disfigured by layers of dirt and paint which, without forensic inspection, make it difficult to discern what is and is not original.
“If a human art appraiser offered to give a ‘Certificate of Authenticity’ costing thousands of dollars based on nothing more than an iPhone photo and partial knowledge of an artist’s work, he would laugh at him.”
Popovici agreed that the quality of the training dataset was vital and said they went to great lengths to ensure they only used photographs of authentic artwork. So far, they have trained their AI to recognize around 300 artists, most of them French impressionist and old master painters.
“We understand that connoisseurs may feel threatened by this technology, but we’re not trying to brush them off,” Popovici said.
“We really want to give them the opportunity to use this system to help them make a decision, maybe in cases where they are not so sure. But for that to happen, they have to be open to this technology.
Julian Radcliffe, President of the Art Loss Register, which maintains the world’s largest private database of stolen art, antiques and collectibles, said: “Artificial intelligence plays a growing role in the authentication of art, but it must be combined with the expertise of connoisseurs. who specialize in artist, well-established science such as pigment analysis and provenance research.
“His advantage is in his ability to give yes/no answers, for example to pattern analysis or matching, and to constantly improve, but his work must be interpreted by a human who must have posed the good question.
“The quest for absolute certainty in authentication has not been achieved and may never be achieved – but we are getting closer.”
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