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Open Access Recreating Van Gogh’s original colors on museum displays

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The colors of Van Gogh’s landscape painting Field with Irises near Arles have changed considerably. To digitally reconstruct its original colors, we use an unprecedented broad scientific analysis and experimental art technological approach, by physically reconstructing oil paints of all pigments used by Van Gogh. We closely match the original paints, and for the first time determine all the optical properties involved. The investigation led to a digital image representing the original colors as good as possible.

We found that for the digital color reconstruction it is important to take into account that museum lighting is often relatively dark in order to better preserve paintings. Since this affects the best way of representing the reconstructed colors on the display, we adapted the digital reconstructed image. We also corrected for the technical specifications of the electronic display on which the reconstructions will be displayed in the museum.

Based on the reconstruction we conclude that the original colors in the painting used to be much brighter, and agreed much better with Van Gogh’s own description of the color composition of this painting. We show that unlike the current colors of the painting, the reconstructed colors are consistent with the color theories on which Van Gogh based his work.
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Keywords: Art; Color; Display

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 13, 2019

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  • For more than 30 years, the Electronic Imaging Symposium has been serving those in the broad community - from academia and industry - who work on imaging science and digital technologies. The breadth of the Symposium covers the entire imaging science ecosystem, from capture (sensors, camera) through image processing (image quality, color and appearance) to how we and our surrogate machines see and interpret images. Applications covered include augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, machine vision, data analysis, digital and mobile photography, security, virtual reality, and human vision. IS&T began sole sponsorship of the meeting in 2016. All papers presented at EIs 20+ conferences are open access.

    Please note: For purposes of its Digital Library content, IS&T defines Open Access as papers that will be downloadable in their entirety for free in perpetuity. Copyright restrictions on papers vary; see individual paper for details.

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