Re-Create Lost Masterpieces
A Daring Artist Challenge
By Robin Jay
In Opulence, we frequently interview artists who have painted great masterpieces, experts who have restored great masterpieces or curators who have exhibited great masterpieces. In this issue, we introduce you to three talented digital artists from around the globe – including India, France and the United States – who were tasked with an especially novel challenge: To re-create lost masterpieces – by Rembrandt, Caravaggio and Schinkel – that were either destroyed in a fire, stolen from a museum, lost at war, or vanished in transit. But here’s the catch – the re-creating artists had just 20 days to replicate these masterpieces using ONLY photos found in the 55 million image library of Adobe Stock, along with tools within Adobe Photoshop to manipulate them.
What follows are the results. See if you can tell the difference between the original masterpieces and the replicas, and then read what each digital artist told Opulence about the tactics used to achieve this seemingly impossible challenge.
Re-Creating Rembrandt’s “Storm On The Of Galilee”
History of the original painting: In 1633, Dutch Golden Age painter Rembrandt van Rijn painted his only seascape – “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” – to depict the miracle of Jesus calming a storm as written in the Bible’s Gospel of Mark, Chapter Four.
Meet the Re-creating Artist: Ankur Sing Patar is an award-winning digital artist and creative director from India’s advertising industry. He specializes in illustrations, creative retouching and photography.
“I was commissioned by Adobe to re-create Rembrandt’s lost masterpiece “Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” which was stolen in 1990 from the Gardner Museum of Boston, Massachusetts,” Ankur said. “I was tasked to make it look as close to the original as possible, entirely out of Adobe Stock photography.
“Finding stock images was one of the hardest challenges for the re-creation,” Ankur explained. “I had to get the hang of how I could find a specific picture. Gradually, it became easier. I found that if I had to build a boat similar to the painting, rather than finding the exact boat, I had to find different parts of the boat, or just some wood textures, and then mold them to create the boat. Similarly, for building a specific character, I had to find a face that looked similar [to the one in Rembrandt’s painting], but I could also build a face with features picked from various other stock images. As soon as I understood the technique, it became much easier.
“The project took 247 stock photos to complete, and it was the most challenging project I have ever worked on,” Ankur said. “That I could do it gave me immense pleasure and confidence. I felt that if I could re-create a masterpiece from stock imagery, I could create anything.”
Re-Creating Caavaggio’s “Saint Matthew and The Angel”
History of the original painting: Baroque style Italian master painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio created “Saint Matthew and the Angel” in 1602 for the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. The artist’s realism derived from using live models. In 1945, World War II bombings at Berlin’s Kaiser Friedrich Museum destroyed the masterpiece. Today, only black and white photos of it (enhanced with color) exist.
Meet the Re-creating Artist: Digital artist Jean-Charles Debroize serves as art director at the Kerozen Studio in St. Gregoire, France. After developing a love for drawing and painting, he took classes to learn digital painting and retouching. The Frenchman enjoys creating funny, unusual and poetic photos and is currently illustrating a children’s book.
Jean-Charles told Opulence, “For the ‘Make a Masterpiece’ project, I tried to make this new picture as close as possible to the original, but I wanted to keep it realistic and give the illusion that the scene really happened. I tried to make a fair balance between the fidelity of the original painting and the photographical sources I could find.
“Due to the particularity of the character’s posture in the painting, it was not easy to find the perfect matching pictures. Nobody in real life poses in such an emphatic way,” Jean-Charles said. “Consequently, the arms, legs, hands, faces, etc., are all remade with several sources. It was like playing puzzles with a choice of a million pieces in the image bank. To make this research easier, I often used the ‘similar picture’ or ‘same model’ functions that allowed me to find very quickly many pictures shot in the same light conditions or with the same subject.
“Moreover, the morphology of the bodies in the painting are extremely amplified,” Jean-Charles continued. “Saint Matthew is not a normal guy you can find on the street. I had to search in the bodybuilder’s section to find the same muscled arms and legs (and in the elderly section to find his face).
“The angel’s parts were also difficult to find, due to the perspective of her face and arm. For the wings, I only used three different pictures of feathers. I duplicated and deformed them to re-create Caravaggio’s wings. For the clothes, it was really hard to find exactly the same folds, but I tried to get the same movement and the same texture.
“To sum up, I used 45 different pictures to remake the whole painting, but I tried hundreds of ones,” Jean-Charles explained. “I’m really glad to have the opportunity to participate in this beautiful project. It was one of the most complicated I’ve done and I’m quite proud of it.”
Re-Creating Schinkel’s “Cathedral Towering Over A Town”
History of the original painting: One of Germany’s most renowned Prussian neoclassical and neogothic architects, Karl Friedrich Schinkel had previously earned a living as a painter. Much of his artwork reflected a belief that for a building to ‘avoid sterility and have a soul, it must contain elements of the poetic and the past, and have a discourse with them.’
In a tragic twist of poetic irony, the fate of Schinkel’s father (who died in a fire when Schinkel was just 6) eerily proved the same fate as one of the artist’s most famous paintings, “Cathedral Towering Over a Town,” which fire destroyed in 1931 at the Glass Palace in Munich.
Meet the Re-creating Artist: Mike Campau, who resides in Southeast Michigan, found his passion in a combination of illustration, photography and computer-generated illustration (CGI). When Adobe approached him to re-create Schinkel’s lost masterpiece, he quickly rose to the challenge.
“I’m used to combining stock photography with my own reference shots or rendering elements CGI, but now I had to look for images inside of images to find details, textures and structures that would match to the original,” Campau said. “The final result was created with 162 Adobe Stock photos, 180+ hours of Photoshop work, and a very sore index finger from scrolling through millions of images.
“When I used the search terms church and cathedral, the results were too broad,” he said. “I quickly researched Schinkel and learned that the kind of architecture he specialized in is called Gothic. When I entered gothic architecture into the search field, the results were more similar to what’s in the painting.”
Campau used the Gothic images to clone windows, arches and filigree to mimic Schinkel’s distinct towers. He used Photoshop’s Pen Tool to segregate squared sections of architecture that matched the German painter’s technique. And Mike cleverly crafted organic masks by employing the Refined Edge Tool along with Channels and Color Range applications.
Re-creating the people in Schinkel’s painting proved no cakewalk. “For one woman, I selected a face, dress, and boots all from separate stock photos,” Campau said. “The arms I found weren’t in the right position, so I modified them in Puppet Warp. I used Liquify on the bonnet to get the right shape.”
Then came the last step – aging the re-creation. “Everyone’s used to seeing classic paintings. Their blacks are a little faded, their whites are a little dingy. I achieved that with color tones and overlays, like bringing violets into the shadows. I duplicated the plaster image, inversed it, and nudged it off a bit to give the cracks some depth,” he said.
“The most rewarding part of the project was finishing it… it was a brutal exercise in patience and painstaking detail work. But seeing the final image completed made it all worth it.”
To see the 4th Adobe Lost Masters “remake” of Frida Kahlo’s ‘Wounded Table’ painting by Karla Cordova, go to www.southfloridaopulence.com.
Meet the Recreating Artist: Karla Cordova, an Ecuador-based art director, designer and photographer, focuses her career on photo post-production and retouching in fashion and advertising.
“What attracted me about Frida’s painting was that it was really different in concept compared to her other paintings,” Cordova said. “It is a surrealist painting that shows struggle, pain, confusion and Frida’s connection with her Mexican roots. It was a real challenge [to recreate] because I just had a small size image, so I had to research what the clothes were like in that time, how she painted her nephew and niece, her ex-husband, and the colors that she used. I researched what she was trying to communicate with her painting and, based on her other paintings, I got closer to what the real painting looked like.
“I started searching on Abobe Stock one character at a time, trying to find parts of the characters in the same perspective, the same texture,” Cordova continued. “It was a long process because it was a surrealistic painting and most of the character parts didn’t make sense. For example, for the skeleton, I searched for human skeletons, but it wasn’t working, so I looked for things that can look like bones. I searched dinosaur bones, stones, plastic bottles, Mexican skeleton masks, metal springs, and that worked. I used 200 stock images to recreate the painting.
“One of the most important things I tried to recreate was their gestures, their expressions and their exact position because Frida was really meticulous about those things,” she said. “For her, everything had an emotional purpose, so I tried to evoke the same emotion. The search part of the process was the longest. What I learned was how much detail I needed to get close to the real painting. I have a new appreciation for the detail, for being really meticulous in the concept, in what I’m trying to communicate, and how I’m doing it. It was an incredible opportunity that Adobe gave me, and it was an honor to try to bring back a lost painting of one of the icons of Latin-American culture.”