Art + Design

Christie’s auctioned off AI-created painting for the first time


By Gwen Ong

Christie’s auctioned off AI-created painting for the first time


Update 26/10/18: The portrait of Edmond de Belamy has been sold for US$432, 500 at the Christie’s auction. That’s 45 times more than earlier estimated. 

Featuring a man against a dark background, a new portrait called ‘Edmond de Belamy’ could easily pass off as a masterpiece by an old master but it is in fact the modern works of Obvious, a Paris-based art collective. It will be the first art piece generated by artificial intelligence to debut at the prestigious art house Christie’s for an auction later this week.

Obvious is made up of a trio – Hugo Caselles-Dupré, Pierre Fautrel and Gauthier Vernier, who have been exploring the interface between art and artificial intelligence. Since last year, the group has been using a method dubbed ‘GAN’ or ‘generative adversarial network’ to create a series of paintings where each image is printed on canvas with inkjet. “The algorithm is composed of two parts,” says Caselles-Dupré. “On one side is the Generator, on the other the Discriminator.”




To create the portrait, the neural network system is fed with a data set of 15,000 paintings from the 14th century to the 20th. This is to train it to recognise visual elements in the fine art. “The Generator makes a new image based on the set, then the Discriminator tries to spot the difference between a human-made image and one created by the Generator. The aim is to fool the Discriminator into thinking that the new images are real-life portraits. Then, we have a result,” explains Caselles-Dupré.

Just like the real artists before them, the portrait bears the “signature” of the creator where the painting is “framed and signed with the math formula” that was used to create it in the lower right corner. The ‘Edmond de Belamy’ portrait is part of a series of paintings depicting the fictional Belamy family. According to Christie’s, it is expected to fetch US$7,000 to US$10,000 at the auction. Bids are opened till 25 October.


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