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Video: AI helps restore Austrian artist Gustav Klimt’s paintings

26 January 2022

Artificial intelligence (AI) is being experimented with or used already in a vast array of the electronics industry to improve efficiency and automation.

But it is increasingly being used by the arts to help recreate iconic masterpieces that have been lost either to time or due to destruction. Already, AI was used to complete Ludwig van Beethoven’s 10th Symphony, which went unfinished due to his death.

Now, AI has been used to restore the paintings of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, which were lost to a fire in 1945, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

Klimt created masterpieces during the first decade of the 20th century such as “The Kiss,” which show two lovers embracing in a field of multicolored flowers, and “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer,” where an elegant woman stands in a geometric dress surround by a sea of gold.

Lost in a fire

During World War II, some of Klimt’s paintings were lost during Nazi looting and were likely destroyed in a fire during this time. All that remained were black-and-white photographs of many of Klimt’s works.

Using machine learning, researchers have now restored the historical images to their original colors, offering the first view of Klimt’s work since before their destruction.

Researchers at Google Arts and Culture and the Belvedere Museum in Vienna developed a tool that culled information about Klimt’s use of color from other pieces of art. Then it used 1 million pictures of the real world and 80 full-color reproductions of Klimt’s paintings from the same period to recreate the art.

Emil Wallner, a Google engineer, spent six months coding the AI algorithm to generate color predictions.

Surprising results

The results of the now-colorized paintings were surprising in some respects to the researchers. For example, they expected a starry sky featured in Klimt’s “Philosophy” art to have a blue tint, but the AI saturated it with an emerald haze, based on accounts that describe the painting with a greenish hue.

“The result for me was surprising because we were able to color [Klimt’s works] even in the places where we had no knowledge,” said Franz Smola, a curator at the Belvedere Museum. “With machine learning, we have good assumptions that Klimt used certain colors.”

New hub

A new online hub has been created for art fans to view Klimt’s reconstructed work, created by Google in collaboration with more than 30 partners. The restored paintings are paired with a virtual exhibition called “Klimt vs. Klimt: The Man of Contradictions.”

Users can zoom in on 63 high resolution images of Klimt’s artwork under a digital hub in augmented reality.

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