Gustav Klimt’s Masterpieces Destroyed During World War II Get Recreated with Artificial Intelligence

A cen­tu­ry after the death of Gus­tav Klimt, his art con­tin­ues to enrap­ture its view­ers. Maybe it has enrap­tured you, but no mat­ter how deep you’ve gone into Klimt’s oeu­vre, there are three paint­ings you’ve only ever seen in black and white. That’s not because he paint­ed them in that way; rich and bril­liant col­ors orig­i­nal­ly fig­ured into all his work, the most notable usage being the real gold lay­ered onto his best-known paint­ing, 1908’s The Kiss. In the year before The Kiss, he com­plet­ed an even more ambi­tious work: a series of paint­ings com­mis­sioned for the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vien­na’s Great Hall, meant to rep­re­sent the fields after which they were titled: Phi­los­o­phy, Med­i­cine, and Jurispru­dence.

Klimt’s “Fac­ul­ty Paint­ings,” as they’re now known, struck crit­ics at the time as pieces of “per­vert­ed excess.” Such charges must have been noth­ing new to Klimt, for whom unabashed eroti­cism and sub­jec­tive views of real­i­ty — nei­ther par­tic­u­lar­ly in fash­ion in the insti­tu­tions of ear­ly 20th-cen­tu­ry Vien­na — con­sti­tut­ed basic artis­tic prin­ci­ples.

Ulti­mate­ly, Klimt him­self bought Phi­los­o­phy, Med­i­cine, and Jurispru­dence back, and by the end of the Sec­ond World War all three had found their way into the hands of the Nazis. With defeat loom­ing, they chose to burn down rather than sur­ren­der the Aus­tri­an cas­tle in which they’d been stor­ing the Fac­ul­ty Paint­ings and oth­er works of art.

With the Fac­ul­ty Paint­ings sur­viv­ing only in black-and-white pho­tographs and scanty descrip­tions, gen­er­a­tions of Klimt enthu­si­asts have had to imag­ine how they real­ly looked. Now, Google Arts & Cul­ture and Vien­na’s Belvedere Muse­um have joined forces to fig­ure out to a greater degree of cer­tain­ty than ever, using arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence to deter­mine what col­ors Klimt would have applied to Phi­los­o­phy, Med­i­cine, and Jurispru­dence based on in-depth analy­ses of the rest of his work. You can get an overview of the process from the short video at the top of the post, and you can read about it in more detail at Google Arts & Cul­ture.

“Klimt’s three Fac­ul­ty Paint­ings were among the largest art­works Klimt ever cre­at­ed and in the field of Sym­bol­ist paint­ing they rep­re­sent Klimt’s mas­ter­pieces,” says Belvedere cura­tor Dr. Franz Smo­la in a Google Arts & Cul­ture blog post. “The col­ors were essen­tial for the over­whelm­ing effect of these paint­ings, and they caused quite a stir among Klimt’s con­tem­po­raries. There­fore the recon­struc­tion of the col­ors is syn­ony­mous with rec­og­niz­ing the true val­ue and sig­nif­i­cance of these out­stand­ing art­works.” The project comes as just one part of Klimt vs. Klimt: The Man of Con­tra­dic­tions, an online ret­ro­spec­tive fea­tur­ing more than 120 of the artist’s works avail­able to view in aug­ment­ed real­i­ty, as well as an ultra-high-res­o­lu­tion scan of The Kiss. Klimt’s paint­ings may no longer shock us, but they still have much to show us.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Long-Lost Pieces of Rembrandt’s Night Watch Get Recon­struct­ed with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Brings to Life Fig­ures from 7 Famous Paint­ings: The Mona Lisa, Birth of Venus & More

AI & X‑Rays Recov­er Lost Art­works Under­neath Paint­ings by Picas­so & Modigliani

Gus­tav Klimt’s Haunt­ing Paint­ings Get Re-Cre­at­ed in Pho­tographs, Fea­tur­ing Live Mod­els, Ornate Props & Real Gold

Gus­tav Klimt’s Icon­ic Paint­ing The Kiss: An Intro­duc­tion to Aus­tri­an Painter’s Gold­en, Erot­ic Mas­ter­piece (1908)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (3)
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  • Jane Teague-Urbach says:

    I am a Klimt fanat­ic and though I can’t afford to col­lect art, I find ways to see some­thing by him as often as I can. This project is amaz­ing and delight­ful!! I can’t believe the pow­er of his Fac­ul­ty Paint­ings!

  • Deborah Devedjian says:

    As a lover and stu­dent of Klimt and his con­tem­po­raries, I com­mend the var­i­ous efforts to recre­ate and refresh an inter­est in Klimt’s art. How­ev­er, I find these recre­ations to be aes­thet­ic abom­i­na­tions as the tones and col­ors are painful trav­es­ties of Klimt’s sub­lime work. I would encour­age any­one inter­est­ed in Klimt, espe­cial­ly the Google data ana­lyst, to vis­it the Seces­sion­ist Muse­um in Vien­na and the Neue Galerie in New York to under­stand and appre­ci­ate Klimt’s oeu­vre.

    With respect,

  • Gustav says:

    aes­thet­ic abom­i­na­tions? They were burned by the Nazis…What do you expect? Bet­ter than noth­ing.

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