'Rejected' Van Gogh makes €550,000

September 3 2020

Image of 'Rejected' Van Gogh makes €550,000

Picture: artnews

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

A painting attributed to Van Gogh, which the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam had rejected, sold for €550,000 in Germany this week. The Wijk Mill is purported to have been painted during 1883-5 when the artist was imitating seventeenth century Dutch old masters. Dechow, the auction house who sold the work, have had their attribution supported by the German art historian Ulrich Kuder who has written a book on a Van Gogh from this period. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, whose expertise are sought for matters of authentication, have said that they do not believe it is by him.

Whoever bought the work has made quite a big gamble. Trying to get art experts to change their minds on such matters is by no means easy.

Update - A reader has kindly drawn my attention to this article that was published by DE24. Curiously, it explains that the attribution to Van Gogh has been supported by an 'AI Expert'.

To quote the article:

The artificial intelligence (AI) expert, Wolfgang Reuter, sees it differently.

The leading data scientist at the Munich company Alexander Thamm examined the painting using an AI. The result: “The Wijk Mill” actually came from van Gogh with an 89 percent probability.

AI checks digital fingerprints of artists Reuter’s model cannot only be applied to questions about Van Gogh. “Whether Rembrandt, da Vinci or Van Gogh – everyone has style elements and patterns that the algorithm recognizes and learns itself,” he explained to “Bild”.

Here is another article which draws attention to the work's provenance and inscription on the painting which supposedly bears a great similarity to Van Gogh's handwriting.

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It seems highly unlikely we're in the position to place our trust in AI models to pass reliable judgements on questions of attributions. However, this won't stop some sections of the scientific community to keep developing methods to come up with the ultimate computer model which will decide who painted what. Afterall, artists are human beings whose individual complexities as deep as the ocean.

Likewise, I'd be interested to hear of an AI development program that has internalised and absorbed all of the complex scholarly literature and catalogue raisonnés on the likes of Van Gogh, for example. That would surely be an interesting exercise, alongside the visual analysis and pattern finding which most AI experts tend to focus on.

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