(Getty/sarah5)

Portrait painted by AI auctions for $432,500, forty times its estimate

Christie's had given it an estimate of $7,000 to $10,000


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Alistair Charlton
October 28, 2018 5:30PM (UTC)
This article originally appeared on GearBrain.
Gear Brain

A painting produced by artificial intelligence has been sold by the Christie's auction house for $432,500, a figure that is over 40 times greater than its reserve price.

The canvas artwork, called the Portrait of Edmond Belmay, was expected to sell for between $7,000 and $10,000, but budding during the New York auction far exceeded expectations.

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Admittedly, given this was Christie's first AI artwork to go under the hammer in its 252-year history, we could forgive the auctioneers for not knowing its true worth.

The painting was produced by a piece of artificial intelligence which was taught about art by being shown 15,000 portraits from the 14th to 20th centuries.

Christie's described the artwork: "The portrait in its gilt frame depicts a portly gentlemen, possibly French and - to judge by his dark frock coat and plain white collar - a man of the church. The work appears unfinished: the facial features are somewhat indistinct and there are black area of canvas...A label on the wall states that the sitter is a man named Edmond Belamy".

The picture is one of a group of portraits of the fictional Belamy family, created by a Paris-based collective called Obvious, made up of three French 25-year-olds.

There are two parts to the AI. The first is called the Generator, which is taught what portraits look like by being shown 15,000 of them. It then creates the painting. Next, the second part, called the Discriminator, is used to work out if it thinks the painting was made by a computer or a human. If the AI is able to trick itself - to convince the Discriminator that the Generator's work is that of a human - then it passes the test.

Christie's specialist Richard Lloyd said of the artwork's authenticity: "It is a portrait, after all. It may not have been painted by a man in a powdered wig, but it is exactly the kind of artwork we have been selling for 250 years.

"AI is just one of several technologies that will have an impact on the art market of the future - although it is far too early to predict what those changes might be. It will be exciting to see how this revolution plays out."

The winner bidder had opted to remain anonymous.


Alistair Charlton

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