Can AI spot a fake? Art experts panic over effect on painting values – Daily Mail

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  • AI company Art Recognition has authenticated over 500 artworks  
  • The results can significantly boost (or cut) the value of paintings 
  • But the techniques are proving unpopular among art historians and curators 

The rise of artificial intelligence has opened up a new frontier in identifying whether an artwork is priceless or a counterfeit, but the results have been met with skepticism among experts. 

The Switzerland-based AI company Art Recognition has completed more than 500 authenticity evaluations including the high-profile verification of an 1889 self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh, the Financial Times reported. 

Art Recognition, which was founded just five years ago, uses an AI system that offers a precise and objective authenticity evaluation of an artwork.

Last year the company was embroiled in a row over a painting known as the de Brécy Tondo, which has been at the center of a heated dispute for more than 30 years.

Art Recognition’s AI concluded that the painting was 85 percent likely to not be an authentic work by the Renaissance master Raphael, as some experts had previously argued. 

Is this painting by the Renaissance master Raphael? The de Brécy Tondo has been at the center of a heated dispute for more than 30 years ¿ AI has given mixed results on its authenticity and its relationship to Raphael's Sistine Madonna

Raphael's The Sistine Madonna (c 1512). The faces in the painting bear a strong resemblance to those in the de Brécy Tondo, but neither AI nor researchers can agree whether that artwork is also by Raphael

The conclusion came despite two British universities, Bradford and Nottingham, using their own AI software to determine whether it was authentic. 

The universities had deployed facial recognition AI software that concluded the faces in the work were identical to those in another Raphael painting, the Sistine Madonna, suggesting it must be a Raphael.  

The divergent results of two AI programs has caused consternation in the art world where authentication of work by a Master can move a valuation by millions of dollars.

‘The Adoration of the Kings’, thought the be done by a painter associated with Rembrandt, was offered at auction in 2021 with an estimate of €10,500-€16,000 ($13,500-$21,000 USD).  

When it was later confirmed to be by Rembrandt himself it sold for £10.9million ($14million USD) at Sotheby’s in December.

Art Recognition is using AI that is excellent at ‘pattern recognition’ according to Jo Lawson-Tancred, author of the soon-to-be-published AI and the Art Market. 

Its models are able to recognize distinguishing features used by a particular artist if it is given enough previous verified examples to ‘learn’ from. 

However, it is still not developed enough to always grasp context so human judgement is still essential to authentication, Lawson-Tancred added. 

'The Adoration of the Kings' was confirmed as an authentic Rembrandt moving its valuation from ¿10,500-¿16,000 to a final sale of £10.9m in December

Prof Hassan Ugail, director of Bradford's Centre for Visual Computing (pictured) says AI is unlikely to replacing human jobs in the art world but may a tool used in authentication

Jo Lawson-Tancred (pictured),author of AI and the Art Market, says Art Recognition's AI is AI that is excellent at 'pattern recognition' of distinguishing features used by a particular artist

Art historian Bendor Grosvenor (right) believes AI is not yet sufficient to determine the authenticity of Master paintings

Carlo Milano (pictured) of Callisto Fine Arts in London concedes that AI might help reduce the margin of error in identifying authentic masterpieces

Other experts are more skeptical. ‘I think that a lot depends on the data that is fed into the AI system,’ Carlo Milano of Callisto Fine Arts told the FT. 

‘For example, if a questionable catalogue raisonné is used to input data about an artist, then the conclusions can be questionable.’

Milano concedes that AI might help reduce the margin of error in identifying authentic masterpieces but that it will never be able to entirely replace hands-on human experience. 

Some conservators are skeptical as to whether AI can take into account factors such as a filthy layer of varnish, wear or damage.  

Prof Hassan Ugail, director of Bradford’s Centre for Visual Computing says AI is unlikely to replacing human jobs in the art world but may be a useful tool for authentication.

‘Just like spectroscopy and dating techniques, AI can be one important tool in the main toolbox,’ he says. 

‘The main drawback at the moment is the quality of the inputs given to the AI attribution programs currently being used’ art historian Bendor Grosvenor told the FT. 

‘It is simply not possible to determine whether a painting is by Rubens by relying only on poor-quality images of not much more than half his oeuvre.

‘No human connoisseur would be trusted to do so — neither can a computer’ he concluded. 

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