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Publication Title | Surface Shape Studies of the Art of Paul Gauguin

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Surface Shape Studies of the Art of Paul Gauguin

Oliver Cossairt∗, Xiang Huang∗, Nathan Matsuda ∗, Harriet Stratis†, Mary Broadway†, Jack Tumblin∗, Greg Bearman§, Eric Doehne¶, Aggelos Katsaggelos∗, and Marc Walton∗

∗Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA †Art Institute of Chicago, IL, USA ‡Georgia OKeeffe Museum, Santa Fe, NM, USA §ANE Image, Pasadena, CA, USA ¶Scripps College, Pasadena, CA, USA

Fig. 1: Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)

Abstract—Starting in the 1890s the artist Paul Gauguin (1848- 1903) created a series of prints and transfer drawings using tech- niques that are not entirely understood. To better understand the artist’s production methods, photometric stereo was used to assess the surface shape of a number of these graphic works that are now in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Photometric stereo uses multiple images of Gauguin’s graphic works captured from a fixed camera position, lit from multiple specific angles to create an interactive composite image that reveals textural characteristics. These active images reveal details of sequential media application upon experimental printing matrices that help resolve longstanding art historical questions about the evolution of Gauguin’s printing techniques. Our study promotes the use of photometric stereo to capitalize on the increasing popularity of Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) among conservators in the world’s leading museums.

Keywords—photometric stereo, reflectance transformation imag- ing, quantitative surface shape measurement, Gauguin, transfer drawings, printmaking techniques.


One of the greatest challenges in art conservation is to faithfully record the appearance of works of art in order to document their state of preservation [1], to monitor changes

Fig. 2: Day of the God (Mahana no Atua), 1894, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1926.198

to the object over time [2], and to better understand the ways in which materials were used to produce an overall artistic effect [3], [4], [5]. The final appearance of a work of art is the result of how it interacts with light that may be absorbed, reflected and scattered from its surface. While some of these interactions are due to the physical properties of the pigments themselves (e.g. their chemistry and molecular structure), irregularities in the surface shape of both the media and the support play a large role in producing the shadows and reflections that encode the art with dimensionality.

While the molecular characterization of pigments and binding media is a mature and well-defined area of research within cultural heritage science [6], [7], [8], characterizing surface shape has not yet become a routine part of documenting the appearance of works of art. During the last decade, the conservation community has increasingly adopted Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI; originally named polynomial texture mapping [9]) as a tool to interactively explore surface relief [10], [11], [12], [13], [14], [15], [16], [17] and features related to the fabrication of objects [18], [19]. RTI methods were originally developed by the computer graphics commu- nity [9] as one of several techniques to capture and depict lighting effects for complex materials: fibrous or granular surfaces such as hair, fabric, feathers, pebbles, etc., and to summarize them extremely efficiently for the relatively modest computers of the late 1990s.

The use of RTI has revolutionized the way conservators are able to digitally interact with art. However, the technique

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