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New algorithms show old colors

Matisse the Bathers
Shades of Matisse: To figure out what Bathers by a River looked like in 1913--four years before Matisse finished it--curators and computer scientists digitized a black-and-white photo from the time (top) and then colorized it (center). The finished painting (bottom) is shown as it appears today. Credit: The Art Institute of Chicago (top and bottom); Art Institute of Chicago and Northwestern University (center).

From Technology Review: Enhancements to image-processing technologies for colorizing black-and-white images are helping curators divine the colors used by the French artist Henri Matisse on his landmark work Bathers by a River–while the painting was still a work in progress.

The tricks deployed by curators could be more widely relevant to other colorizing applications where it’s not obvious what the colors should be in a black-and-white image of a piece of art, or in cases where subtle differences are important and should be highlighted, such as in medical images.

Researchers at Northwestern University used information about Matisse’s prior works, as well as color information from test samples of the work itself, to help colorize a 1913 black-and-white photo of the work in progress. Matisse began work on Bathers in 1909 and unveiled the painting in 1917….That insight helps support research that Matisse began the work as an upbeat pastoral piece but changed it to reflect the graver national mood brought on by World War I.

In this way, they learned what the work looked like midway through its completion.

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Beth Kelley is an applied & digital anthropologist with an overall interest in how people engage with and are impacted by their environments and vice versa. This has manifested itself in many ways, by looking at creativity, playful spaces, built environments, and environmental enrichment, sustainability, design research, and integrative and collaborative models of learning such as through play and hands-on learning.

One thought on “New algorithms show old colors

  1. I just came across your blog & am ridiculously excited by it’s existence. The relationships between arts & sciences is a topic of central interest to me, always seems to be what I come back to. I’m interested in the paradigms of poetic and scientific forms of communication, and how the differences are on one hand superficial yet generally unappreciated. I find it frustrating they are practitioners in either discourse find the other nonsensical. I’m thinking specifically of the divide between “analytic” and “continental” philosophy. I suspect a text analysis of writing in the sciences and humanities would reveal that science writers use a great deal of metaphor and “poetic” language to convey their “scientific” ideas and humanities writers use a great deal of “analysis” and “reasoning” to convey their “poetic” ideas.

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