A novel visualization tool for art history and conservation: Automated colorization of black and white archival photographs of works of art

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Tsaftaris, Sotirios A.; Casadio, Francesca; Andral, Jean-Louis; Katsaggelos, Aggelos K.;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 59, Number 3, p.125-135 (2014)


This paper describes the use of a customized algorithm for the colorization of historical black and white photographs documenting earlier states of paintings. This study specifically focuses on Pablo Picasso's mid-century Mediterranean masterpiece La Joie de Vivre, 1946 (Musée Picasso, Antibes, France). The custom-designed algorithm allows computer-controlled spreading of color information on a digital image of black and white historical photographs to obtain accurate color renditions. Expert observation of the present state of the painting, coupled with stratigraphic information from cross sections allows the attribution of color information to selected pixels in the digitized images. The algorithm uses the localized color information and the grayscale intensities of the black and white historical photographs to formulate a set of equations for the missing color values of the remaining pixels. The computational resolution of such equations allows an accurate colorization that preserves brushwork and shading. This new method is proposed as a valuable alternative to the use of commercial software to apply flat areas of color, which is currently the most common practice for colorization efforts in the conservation community. Availability of such colorized images enhances the art-historical understanding of the works and might lead to better-informed treatment.