Artificial intelligence discovers “hidden” painting by Pablo Picasso

A portrait of a crouching naked woman, hidden under the surface of a painting by Pablo Picasso, was revealed by scientists at University College London (UCL) in England. The technique employed artificial intelligence (AI), X-ray imaging technology and an advanced three-dimensional printing technique.

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  • Nicknamed “The Lonesome Crouching Nude”, the portrait was hidden under another work from the Spanish painter’s famous Blue Period for over a century . The painting was considered lost until 1903, when X-ray images revealed that it was behind the painting ” The Blind Man’s Meal.”

    “We believe that Picasso probably painted this piece reluctantly. It was common in his work in the Blue Period, as it was early in his career, and the materials were expensive, hence the need to reuse the canvas for other works”, comments machine learning specialist at UCL Anthony Bourached.

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    Revealing Picasso

    Interestingly, the image of the crouching naked woman is also portrayed as an unfinished painting in the background of the famous “La Vie” of 1903, by Pablo Picasso, exhibited at the Cleveland Museum of Art, in the United States. Using a combination of spectroscopic images, AI and 3D printing, the scientists were able to reproduce the color painting in full size.

    Left: The Blind Man’s Meal. Right: La Vie featuring the nude woman crouched in the background (Image: Reproduction/University College London)

    To ensure that the brushstrokes were faithful to the original appearance of the work, the UCL researchers developed an algorithm to analyze dozens of paintings by Pablo Picasso in that same period, training him to learn the style and technique used by the artist during the creation of the painting.

    “I hope that Picasso is happy to know that the treasure he has hid for future generations was finally revealed, 24 years after his death and 118 years after the painting was hidden. I believe the woman in the portrait is glad to know she hasn’t been erased from the story,” adds physicist George Cann.

    Five steps

    The technique of discovering the hidden portrait was based on five distinct steps. At first, scientists used X-ray images to reveal what was underneath the original screen. Soon after, this image was processed to separate the internal and external features of the work.

    X-ray revealing the hidden painting (Image: Reproduction/University College London)

    A neural network was trained with a collection of the painter’s artwork, making it able to imitate the artist’s style with based on previous paintings. Then, an embossed portrait map was generated to texture the piece that came to “life” on a state-of-the-art 3D printer.

    “It’s very exciting to see one work hidden for so long. It’s really scary to see the brushstrokes, the color and the way the lights reflect in this work by Picasso and, thanks to technology, we’ve brought out a painting that could be lost forever”, concludes Bourached.

    Source: University College London

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