Austrian painter Gustav Klimt created some of his best-known masterpieces during his so-called golden phase. Spanning the first decade of the 20th century, this period saw the artist produce works such as The kiss (1908), a sensual scene of two lovers kissing in a field of multicolored flowers, and Portrait of Adèle Bloch-Bauer I (1907), in which an elegant woman in a striking geometric dress stands surrounded by a sea of gold.
Not all of Klimt’s vibrant paintings survive today. The Nazi looting during World War II led to the destruction of many of Klimt’s valuable works, including the Faculty paintings: three huge allegorical scenes entitled Philosophy, Medication and Case law.
To study these paintings, probably all destroyed in a fire in 1945, art historians have long had to be content with black and white photographs. Thanks to machine learning, however, researchers have now restored historical images of the Faculty trio to approximations of their original colors, giving viewers an idea of what Klimt’s works looked like before their destruction, reports the Mexican newspaper the universal.
To create the images, Google Arts and Culture and the Belvedere Museum in Vienna developed a tool that retrieves information about Klimt’s use of color from disparate sources. As Shanti Escalante-De Mattei reports for ARTnews, the data set included contemporary journalistic descriptions of the Paintings of the Faculty, 1 million real-world images and 80 color reproductions of Klimt paintings from the same period.
Google engineer Emil Wallner spent nearly six months coding the artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm to generate color predictions. He says the universal that certain aspects of the final paintings surprised researchers: for example, one might expect the starry sky in Klimt’s work Philosophy wear a blue tint, but the AI color version is saturated with an emerald haze, based in part on journalist accounts that describe the greenish tint of the paint.
“It really does create a kind of shocking effect, because you’d expect it to be something else,” Wallner explains in a Google Arts and Culture video.
In a statement, Franz Smola, curator at the Belvedere Museum who worked on the restoration with Wallner, adds: “The result for me was surprising because we were able to color [Klimt’s works] even in places where we had no knowledge. With machine learning, we have good assumptions that Klimt used certain colors. “
Art lovers can explore these colorful recreations through a new online hub dedicated to Klimt, created by Google in collaboration with more than 30 partners. The restored paintings are associated with a virtual exhibition, “Klimt vs. Klimt: The Man of Contradictions,” which explores the painter’s idiosyncratic life and heritage.
Simon Rein, program manager at Google Arts and Culture, tells the universal that the title of the program refers to “the ambivalence of an artist navigating between tradition and modernity, a feminist artist but also a devoted lover, a private person and at the same time a revolutionary”.
Viewers can also zoom in to 63 high-resolution images of the artist’s masterpieces, which Google has curated under one digital roof in a pocket augmented reality gallery.
Klimt’s long history Paintings of the Faculty full of scandals, conflicts and unresolved mysteries. The story begins in 1894, when the University of Vienna commissioned rebel Klimt and contemporary Franz Matsch to create allegorical paintings for the ceiling of a luxurious new meeting room.
Klimt contributed three huge panels of his own surprisingly original design. Measuring over 14 feet tall, the compositions showed wild and unbridled visions of an allegorical world “stirring with sex, death and chaos,” writes Sam Gaskin for Ocula magazine.
Naked women wrapped in snakes, pregnant women, children, skeletons and ghostly beings with cascading hair populate the canvases, highlighted by the shimmer of Klimt’s gold leaf. According to the Belvedere Museum, the artist used references to mythology and more: to represent the concept of philosophy, for example, Klimt painted a sphinx, “the keeper of secrets and unsolvable puzzles … of which the dark figure emerges from a cosmic fog. “
Critics called the works pornography, with one anonymous observer deeming them “deeply offensive to the general public.” After being asked several times to revise his creations, Klimt refused to deliver the paintings and returned his fees of 30,000 crowns (around 162,000 € today), notes the Gustav Klimt Foundation.
The artist eventually sold the canvases to Serena Lederer, a wealthy Jewish woman who lived in Vienna and was an avid collector of Klimt’s works, the Austrian National Library explains in an essay on the Google hub.
Nazi forces looted Lederer’s Klimt painting collection as part of a massive campaign of cultural looting across Europe. As art historian Tina Marie Storkovich reported for the Austrian newspaper Die Press in 2015, Klimt’s paintings were stored along with other valuable works of art at Schloss Immendorf, a castle in northeastern Austria. (Lederer, for her part, was forced to flee to Hungary, where she died in 1943.)
Tragedy struck on May 8, 1945, when the castle burned down in a fire, possibly the result of arson. Some historians argue that the Nazis started the fire as they fled the approaching Soviet Red Army.
It is not known exactly how many of Klimt’s works were destroyed in the fire. While the Klimt Foundation lists 16 lost works, including the Faculty paintings, the National Library suggests a figure closer to “at least ten”.
Even though some of Klimt’s works escaped the 1945 fire, it is unlikely that the Faculty paintings were among the survivors.
“Due to the enormous size of the Faculty paintings … Removing them at any speed during the events of the castle in 1945 would hardly have been possible, ”notes the library essay. “This fact supports the general hypothesis that these three paintings by Klimt were not saved.”