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Sotirios Tsaftaris

Great publicity received recently Sotirios Tsaftaris, Research Assistant Professor in the Radiology, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Departments at the Northwestern University USA thanks to his research on the digital restoration of Henri Matisse’s famous painting Baigneuses à la rivière (Bathers by a River).

The research was conducted in close collaboration with Professor Aggelos Katsaggelos and was initially presented at the Art Institute of Chicago followed by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York.

Matisse is famous for his vivid colours, however, from 1913 to 1917 he radically changed his style and palette. “Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917” was hosted by the Art Institute of Chicago in 2010. The exhibition curators wanted to recreate the colors of the painting as they were in May 1913 using an old black-and-white photograph of the painting (image 2) and thus turned to Sotirios Tsaftaris’s team. The painter himself is responsible for the enigma, as he often changed the painting’s colours to reflect his mood.

The researchers undertook the venture of solving this riddle with digital restoration of the “lost painting” (image 1), developing a new imaging technology which enabled them to colorize the digitalized black-and-white photograph of the painting.

Historical and statistical analysis revealed the color of certain areas of the painting in 1913. The research team then used special optimization algorithms to apportion colors throughout the painting, taking into consideration the personal style of the painter and also the fact that the photograph was taken with a 1913-technology camera with reduced brightness range.

The reconstruction of the painting, as displayed in image 3, depicts what the painting must have looked in 1913. The change in the colours of the painting reveals different aspects of Matisse’s life and shows that his mood influenced the way and the subject of his paintings. There is speculation that Matisse was influenced by World War I and the sombre atmosphere of that period, hence the extensive use of grey. (More information is available at http://bit.ly/sotos.)