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Software To Authenticate Paintings 72

eldavojohn writes, "There's a new software tool out and about called Authentic which analyzes paintings to determine if they are indeed authentic works of the artist. If you don't think this is a serious problem to tackle, some experts estimate up to 15 percent of 'original prints' sold at auction houses are actually fake. From the article: 'By dividing 145 digitized paintings into pixels and analyzing the colors of each and how they compared with nearby pixels, the system was able to spot patterns unique to the painter. The software also showed Van Gogh's use of complementary colors (PDF) increased during his most active period from 1885 to 1890, according to the study published in Pattern Recognition Letters... In tests, Authentic performed as well as 15 human volunteers who were each given a small segment of a painting to study.' I've heard of many tools that analyze texts to verify the author but this is an extra dimension and a new frontier for pattern recognition. Tacking on another dimension, how much longer until we are able to analyze video in the same way?"
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Software To Authenticate Paintings

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  • How to Start in Java (Score:5, Informative)

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday October 14, 2006 @07:05PM (#16439701) Journal
    What amazes me is how many tools are out and available online regarding this sort of pattern recognition development. Since a lot of people know Java, I'm would encourage you to use the Java Media Framework (free from Sun) [sun.com]. Once you have those libraries installed, it's quite easy to start editing sound, images & video. You might need to grab and install codecs if you're doing video analysis but I think almost all image codecs are supported.

    I'm not going to lie, the video computation can be quite heavily but thankfully that framework is implemented such that the entire video doesn't have to be loaded into memory, just a one frame buffer analysis can be used if you want.

    The last thing you would need is simply the know-how on programming these analysis algorithms. There are sites out there with a large wealth of up-to-date algorithms. An example would be the text book style site of pattern recognition [mcgill.ca] or image processing [ed.ac.uk]. While this doesn't teach you how to do things, it does contain the raw resources and algorithms. General resources like the computer vision homepage [cmu.edu] exist that serve as links to all kinds of resources. Unfortunately, I know of no real solid books that contain everything out there because this field is so rapidly developing. My professors taught me from hand printed slides in a large compendium they had accumulated over the last couple years.

    The last piece missing is the data to analyze. While you might not have the ultra high resolution Van Gogh images to do this yourself, it may be possible to visit museums with 6 MP cameras to obtain your own data. Failing that, there are repositories online [uci.edu] that sometimes contain image information you can start with. While this may not satisfy your specific needs, it sure is great for the lazy developer like myself.

    Lastly, I will mention citeseer [psu.edu] and Google Scholar [google.com] for cutting edge papers that you might want to try implementing. Distributing these algorithms and building a good GUI can be tricky but really anyone can build the backend. I heavily recommend experimenting with this if it interests you.
  • to make sure my fakes are not fakes?
    • So I need to license this fine piece of software to make sure my fakes are not fakes?

      I believe the alternative is for you is to pay an 'expert' to analyze your work and fill out a certificate of authenticity. I'm no expert but I believe this gets pretty expensive with many many works of art requiring many different expert's (for each artist's) time.

      Now, this software doesn't yet work for all artists but I would imagine that if I spent large amounts of money on art, I would prefer my auction house th

      • It's not just expensive - I can't get these people to return my calls!

        I've got five paintings, two of which have been "informally valued" at considerable prices - but I literally can't get appraisers to return my calls.

        I even called literally 50 galleries trying to find someone to help me - zippo.

        So, there they sit. It seems that more and more industries these days just don't want my money

        It's like going to a car dealership and being told "we don't have any salespeople today, try back next year."

        And no, I'm
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by sakusha ( 441986 )
        There are two conventional approaches to authentication: provenance and catalog raisonne.

        The provenance of a work is a detailed history of every owner to possess the work since its creation. If you can establish an unbroken, verified provenance, the work is presumed to be authentic. The only problem with this scheme is that a provenance may also be forged or broken. For example, some recent works that were stolen by the Nazis during WWII have forged provenances that reassigned the works through sham owners.
        • If an artist says he created the work, who is anyone to dispute it?

          You'd be surprised, especially for values of "artist" within "recording artist". See what happened to George Harrison in Bright Tunes Music v. Harrisongs Music (Google it).

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by sakusha ( 441986 )
            I would hardly be surprised. There's an old (probably apocryphal) story about Picasso, a woman brought him some drawings to authenticate and asked if they were his work. He signed them and said "Now they are!"
      • by mrmeval ( 662166 )
        So with this software it will be cheaper to make my fakes?

        Hurray!
    • No, you don't need the software. You still need a person. Because data like this can be used to create fakes also, and the fake created by a fraudulent piece of software will fool the detection software because they rely on the same data.
  • Weally? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by suv4x4 ( 956391 ) on Saturday October 14, 2006 @07:09PM (#16439723)
    If you don't think this is a serious problem to tackle, some experts estimate up to 15 percent of 'original prints' sold at auction houses are actually fake.

    What if I *still* don't think this is a serious problem?

    The value of those pictures is a pure bubble anyway, if you can willingly give a $10k or so for a mere painting and it looks real to you, maybe it doesn't matter if it's fake. Better not tell you otherwise.

    While not obvious at first site, there's a very tight relation to the "authenticity" of paintings (and antiquated things as a whole), and... digital piracy.

    In both cases we're talking about things that can't cover their announced value just for what they are. Instead you're told they own some sort of authenticity, and thus cost X dollars.

    In both cases you can make much cheaper copies (or free copies) so abuse will always happen, unless we wisen up and stop paying for "star power", and artificially limited supplies.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ScentCone ( 795499 )
      In both cases we're talking about things that can't cover their announced value just for what they are. Instead you're told they own some sort of authenticity, and thus cost X dollars.

      A thing commands whatever price someone is willing to pay. If their willingness is based on a fraud (a fake painting, for example), then that blows the viability of that marketplace.

      Whether you, personally, can imagine paying a lot of money for, say, a canvas that Picasso personally touched and applied paint to - well, i
      • I almost hate to venture an opinion on this as I feel most of the points have been well covered but I think there is a simple one that has been understated.
        • Lying is bad.
        • Stealing is bad.
        • Forgery is lying to steal and.. you guessed it: bad.
        • Letting people know when they are being lied to or stolen from is good.

        There might be exceptions but I don't think that forging art is one of them. All the comments on whether or not art is worth what is paid for it are missing the central point which is that it

    • by NotQuiteReal ( 608241 ) on Saturday October 14, 2006 @08:08PM (#16440011) Journal
      I have alway wondered why there is such a premium on "an original". Especially art.

      Maybe it is just the bias of a geek, used to mass-produced goods. Take a nice CPU for example, A multi-million transistor technological work of art. First copy - billions, subsequent production run, pennies apiece - all the same.

      If you really like a painting, you can get a print. Want more? You can get reproductions [huntfor.com], done brushstroke, by brushstroke. 99% of humanity couldn't tell the difference, your freinds might know you don't have the bucks for the original. In 200 years will an antique 20th century reproduction of a 19th century masterpiece be worth much less than the original?

      Many gemstones can be reproduced too. Synthetic rubies, emeralds, saphires (and probably others) are chemically identical - and PERFECT. Yet, "natural" objects of the same materials are more costly. Why? Because it takes a lot more work to get the "natural" version out of the ground. Cosmetically, I'd take a fake emerald over a cloudy natural one any day. Oooh shiney!

      A collector will pay a premium for a mis-struck coin. You will take your defective DVD back to Wal-Mart. Stamp collectors on the other hand, like nice, well centered examples... unless they are way off, then - tada! It's a rarity.

      If I were to make some "fake" gold coins, out of real gold, are they really fake? I suppose the US Mint breaks old molds, but what if they found an old, rare $20 gold piece die, and decided to whack a few out, just for old times sake - official US minted gold coins with the original dies... what happens to the value of the "rarity"? (Some lawyer would probably take the case :-)

      I just don't get artifical scarcity - "rare pokemon cards", "rare beenie babies". Crap, forget rare, I have a yard full of unique, one-of-a-kind "pet rocks"!

      And now, the million dollar winner - "rare bits", yesiree, here are some copyrighted bits, far more valuable than those pirate bits...

      I think I am rambling.

      • by sakusha ( 441986 )

        If you really like a painting, you can get a print. Want more? You can get reproductions [huntfor.com], done brushstroke, by brushstroke. 99% of humanity couldn't tell the difference, your freinds might know you don't have the bucks for the original. In 200 years will an antique 20th century reproduction of a 19th century masterpiece be worth much less than the original?

        I hope you realize that those "reproductions" are painted in sweatshops in China. No I'm not kidding.

        The reason why an original is more pri

        • [point zero - re: Chinese sweatshops. Each has to decide whether one man's sweatshop is another's step in incremental societal evolution or a stumbling block to "progress".]

          1. Re: original artwork. The point is moot. The originality is already recognized, to wit, it is a popular work. There is a desire to have [even] a reproduction. The whimsical quality of "artistic value" has already been realized, hence the demend, either by true appreciation, or simply by gross peer pressure to be "with it".

          2. Re: s

          • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Saturday October 14, 2006 @09:53PM (#16440619)
            There is no longer any reason for works of "art" to be "lost to the ravages of time", by my definition. If it is "good", there will be many copies, because it has the essence of what makes it "good". Some copies are sure to survive.

            Look, when a fine art printmaker personally draws an image on a stone or plate, and produces a texture that lays semi-reflective ink onto a particular texture of hand-made paper using a certain density of ink... and then hand-registers the print while pressing the paper against another half-dozen litho stones to produce a very specific finished result... that cannot be photographically reproduced. Or mechanically so. Or digitally so... not in any way that produces the same results to the eye. Especially when the artist wraps up the print run by hand-coloring with other media, or applying Chine-colle, etc., however many of that particular piece have been produced are as many as will ever be produced. And some of them will not be kept as well as others. Scarcity ensues, and value (if the work is worth anything to its audience/appreciators) does go up. Looking at a high-res scan of the thing is NOT the same.

            Exactly the same thing applies to a limited run of castings from a sculpture. The process is destructive, the original may be lost... these are things that are not the same, when seen photographically. Do you really think that seeing a full-sized copy of "David" is the same as walking into the room that contains the original one that Michelangelo personally touched with his own hands? It's not.

            Is a unique "artistic statement" lessened because it is not the original embodiment of the idea?

            Maybe, maybe not. But the experience of actually seeing (or touching) the work may very well not be the same, and that's between the artist and his audience - not between scam artists and a scammed audience. Someone being told they're looking directly at the piece of work produced by the artist, and seeing something like a Giclee or other reproduction, will either know they're being lied to, or suddenly think a lot less of the artist.
            • by Cyberax ( 705495 )
              Well, that just means that reproduction technology is not ideal. So mass-production statement of parent does not apply - you have REAL scarcity, not an artificial one.

              BTW, it may be possible tomorrow to laser-scan David sculpture and recreate it using plastic printers down to smallest details.
            • by raehl ( 609729 )
              Do you really think that seeing a full-sized copy of "David" is the same as walking into the room that contains the original one that Michelangelo personally touched with his own hands?

              Of course not. In one of those cases, your jet lag is much worse.
            • by suv4x4 ( 956391 )
              Do you really think that seeing a full-sized copy of "David" is the same as walking into the room that contains the original one that Michelangelo personally touched with his own hands? It's not.

              That's the problem. While people considering touching something with specific pair of hands blows its value way up, this problem will always haunt us.

              Michelangelo may be one in a billion, or even just one in a universe. Still, his hands are normal human hands like anyone else's hands. We're not that unique, and our
          • by FLEB ( 312391 )
            I think you've just got a different perspective and a different set of values. For a collector, respect for (and ownership of) *THE* work, not *A* work, is a large part of the hobby. Replicas can do perfectly well in conveying the meaning and content of a work, and would be perfectly suitable for a person who wishes to study or reflect upon it, but for a collector, there is a value of status, both for the object and the owner, in having something scarce and original. Not everyone, after all, is able to acqu
      • In 200 years will an antique 20th century reproduction of a 19th century masterpiece be worth much less than the original?

        Um, yes. "Fake" or "reproduction" paintings are nothing new. Throughout the ages, many students of art copied the old masters just to get better at their craft.

        This is not to impact your point as a whole, but I just thought this particular line weakened it. Anybody who buys a reproduction Van Gogh as such for their living room is obviously not concerned about the value 200 years from

      • by lixee ( 863589 )
        You make an excellent point here, General!
        I think the problem is inherent to capitalism as we know it today: Excessively superfluous.
      • Well, as another poster has noted, unless you have a time machine you won't be able to make another 300-year old painting. Unless you have the time machine and a copy(clone?) of the artist, you won't be able to make a new painting by that artist.

        The value of art that is from a noted artist is only partly in the image on the canvas; if you wanted that, you could buy a poster for $20. And yet, as you noted, the originals still sell for thousands. The value is in having an object that was shaped by the artists
      • by raehl ( 609729 )
        I have alway wondered why there is such a premium on "an original". Especially art.

        If you had a smaller penis, you'd understand.
      • I have always wondered why there is such a premium on "an original". Especially art.

        It depends on the collector.

        On the one hand, there's Peggy Guggenheim, who bought left and right from living artists, putting food on their table, getting drunk with them, making their name. She was buying Jackson Pollock before the guy invented action painting. Picasso, Francis Bacon, Giacometti, you name it. As far as collectors go, she's the all-time queen. Of course, it helped that she had true passion for art as wel
    • The value of those pictures is a pure bubble anyway, if you can willingly give a $10k or so for a mere painting

      Actually, a Klimt went for $100+ mil not long ago, but you're right. Here's a scenario you read about once in a while:

      -Prestigious museum acquires a painting by the great Renaissance artist Antonio Fettucine for $10 million.

      -Grad student examines the painting with high-tech equipment, and announces it's actually the work of Fettucine's star pupil Vittorio Linguine.

      -Museum finds its painting is

  • by nih ( 411096 ) on Saturday October 14, 2006 @07:10PM (#16439729)
    Tacking on another dimension

    i'll buy that for a dollar!
  • This type of program was on the television show Numb3rs this season. It almost makes you wonder if tv writers (or even fiction writers) are on the cutting edge, or if we are just so far behind.
    • by Calydor ( 739835 )
      TV and fiction writers are on the cutting edge; the job of a sci-fi writer, for instance, is to think up plausible science and inventions that we do not have yet. For instance, I read somewhere that cell phones were originally inspired by the communication devices used in Star Trek. Or, perhaps, something I've seen on TV long before it was invented: A cell phone sending a video feed of whoever you were talking to. We have that now. I saw it in an animated series in the early 90s. Yes, fiction writers are a
  • This tool depends on having a collection of 'known good' works in order to make a comparison. But quite often a painter doesn't paint like 'himself'. False positives would be very easy. When van Meegeren forged his Vermeers in the thirties, the paintings didn't have all the signature marks of Vermeers. They were purported to have been from a hitherto little-known period of Vermeer's work.
  • No. (Score:4, Informative)

    by sakusha ( 441986 ) on Saturday October 14, 2006 @07:54PM (#16439925)
    Sorry, this software does not detect fakes, as claimed. All it can possibly do is detect whether or not a painting resembles other paintings by an individual artist. Speaking as a painter myself, I know that most artists undergo radical changes through their career, and painting styles may change radically due to such simple factors as buying a different brand of oil paint. Some artists never repeat the same style twice. Some artists create works in a unique style and then abandon that style after only a few works. Some artists emulate the style of their teachers so closely that even experts can't tell their works apart. Software is not likely to help these situations.

    And to further complicate the problem, the biggest problem in the art market is not forged oil paintings, it is forged prints. I know one famous atelier that keeps the plates from famous artists works they've printed (they are supposed to be destroyed at the end of a printmaking edition) and once in a while they'll reprint a few, forge the artist's signature, and sell them under the table as unnumbered Artist's Proofs. These forgeries sell for tens of thousands of dollars, and are undetectable from image analysis, they are printed from the same plates as the originals and are 100% identical. But they're fakes by any standard, since they were not authorized by the artist and are not numbered.

    Conventional analysis is more than sufficient to deal with fakes. Chemical analysis of pigments or grounds, and IR, UV, or XRay imaging, etc. are well developed techniques for identification of forgeries. I know of some Matisse fakes that were identified because an art historian looked at the thread count in the canvas and determined this type of machine-woven canvas was not manufactured until after Matisse's death. You can't teach this to a computer, it requires experience and long study.
    • "Fakes by any standard"? "Since they were not authorized by the artist and are not numbered"?

      Then that same standard says that pirated mp3s are fakes compared to the original mp3s. And seems a silly standard.
    • These forgeries sell for tens of thousands of dollars, and are undetectable from image analysis, they are printed from the same plates as the originals and are 100% identical. But they're fakes by any standard, since they were not authorized by the artist and are not numbered.

      They are clearly only fakes by SOME standards, particularly the standard of an artist who doesn't want someone profiting off their work.

      If I have a Unforgiven (the song) on CD, and I copy it but-for-bit to my hard drive, and then play
      • by sakusha ( 441986 )
        You haven't quite got a handle on the situation here, I think.
        When an artist produces a run of limited edition prints, he is entering into a contract with the art market, an old established contract that every honest artist and atelier operates by. He is declaring that his edition of, say 100 prints, means that ONLY 100 prints will ever be made (plus a few artists proofs made during testing runs). The atelier is breaking the contract with both the artist and the market when they produce these illegitimate p
  • If you don't think this is a serious problem to tackle, some experts estimate up to 15 percent of 'original prints' sold at auction houses are actually fake.

    Yeah, well, I still don't consider it a serious problem.

    - Alaska Jack

    • Don't be an ass. People of regular means sometimes actually choose to purchase an original piece of art for about the same price that some other people spend on yet another hopped-up gaming PC which they'll plug in right next to their other five in their Mom's basement. Poor rich game-worthy-PC collectors? When someone who is not rich chooses to, say, spend $750 on a hand-pulled lithograph by Malcolm Lipke because they think it's beautiful and likely to become more valuable over the years, a person producin
    • I doubt a bit if (a part of) the art world considers it a problem either, it's just part of the game. So let's try a cynical description of the game:

      As with the old joke of cans of sardines being used as alternative money in the war, the rule is that you don't try to eat the sardines. That is not what they are for. So once a piece has a certificate of authenticity, the owner has no interest in having it checked, and assisted by a certificate from a reputed expert, she will only sell to people who do not ins
  • Seems like a great first step towards being able to generate paintings in the style of particular artists. Neat! Are these artist profile parameters combinable, one wonders.
  • by Da_Biz ( 267075 ) on Saturday October 14, 2006 @08:22PM (#16440089)
    ...they should just install the Windows Genuine Advantage code on the paintings. (ducks)
  • From the article: 'By dividing 145 digitized paintings into pixels and analyzing the colors of each and how they compared with nearby pixels, the system was able to spot patterns unique to the painter.'

    So how do you know the paintings you use as source material aren't fake?
  • Just use "Authentic" to guide you to a perfect forgery.
    You do not even need an art expert anymore. With this tool anyone can become a great forgerer.
  • Tech: "It's real."

    Preston: "Burn it."
  • They used something like this on $TOPIC a week or two ago.
  • In tests, Authentic performed as well as 15 human volunteers who were each given a small segment of a painting to study.'

    How about comparing the software at identifying fake paintings vs. volunteers, given that both the people and software can look at the whole image if they wish? The restriction to a small piece of the painting is purely to "make it fair" to the software, which won't benefit from the whole painting like a human could.

  • What exactly is meant by the statement that "The software also showed Van Gogh's use of complementary colours increased during his most active period from 1885 to 1890?"

    Reading between the lines, I'm inclined to wonder whether, if the software had been "trained" on early Van Goghs, it would have recognized the later ones as authentic, or whether it would have rejected them because of the apparently uncharacteristic use of colors.

    Actually this whole story bothers me. To begin with, human art experts not only
    • This software will not give a guaranteed Real/Fake judgement about paintings. Instead it will give an opinion, that can help a human expert in deriving an answer. Such an opinion could be "This picture matches a Van Gogh picture from his late period." It's up to a human to determine if that supports or refutes the claims made about a picture.
      This does not differ from what human experts do in their head. The big advantage is that this piece of software makes that information measurable. An expert does not ha
  • Think of all the implications of this technology in the IT world!

    "Please paint a happy little cloud to log on."
    • Charles Shultz, the author/illustrator of the cartoon "Peanuts", once drew a picture of Charlie Brown to prove his identity to someone (or so the story goes).
  • Numb3rs [cbs.com] did it! (October 6th episode "Proveance").

    :)

  • by nickovs ( 115935 ) on Sunday October 15, 2006 @05:16AM (#16442365)
    Colour analysis is interesting but it's well known that an artist's colour usage changes over time (a famous example being Claude Monet [ucalgary.ca] and his eye cataracts). Brush stroke patterns, on the other hand, seem to change less. There was an interesting paper [pnas.org] in 2004 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [pnas.org] on using wavelet analysis of brush stroke marks to separate originals from imitations and to detect areas of paintings that had been reworked.

    Of course these are all just tools that add evidence either way, not proof of originality or forgery. I suspect that using both colour and brush stroke analysis would do a better job than just one or the other.
  • We saw this type of technology in the movie "Equilibrium." The next thing I want is some type of technology that we should have seen already that would allow us to transport ourselves into paintings, or sidewalk chalk drawings.
  • some experts estimate up to 15 percent of 'original prints' sold at auction houses are actually fake

    Would they happen to be among the people aiming to sell expensive software to deal with this problem?

  • > FTA: Authentic performed as well as 15 human volunteers who were each given a small segment of a painting to study

    So, those volunteers - random people, or skilled forgery hunters? If the former then they've basically said "our program is as good as dumb luck at detecting forgeries".
  • Anyone who watches the TV show Numbers knows that they did this exact same thing a week or two ago, and it worked flawlessly on TV, so why wouldn't it work in real life? Actually, kidding aside and while I'm still only partially ot, I'm pretty impressed with this particular TV show. It seems like all the equations used to solve the mysteries would actually work. Now how you use the right one versus all the other ones that would yield similar yet invalid results, I'm not sure. Anyone else here that watch
  • I wonder if it would be usefull to be able to find other 'works' that are similar. Say like what happens with some online music shops.. you liked artist AAAAA, why not try some of BBBBB?

    It reminds me of a short story by Bob Shaw where aliens were secretly buying up original earth art and replacing them with forgeries that were undetectable with our technology. Must go find it and re-read.

    OT: Anyone want to buy my latest work of a chinese dragon drawn in celtic knotwork at the bargin price of AUS$100,000

Nothing ever becomes real until it is experienced. - John Keats

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