Surface-Shape Studies of Gauguin's Monoprints, Prints, and Drawings (2015)

Paul Gauguin is perhaps one of the most well-known of the Post-Impressionist artists working in the late 19th century. He was born in Paris in 1848 and died in the Marquesas Islands in 1903. His paintings are inhabited by Bretons, and later, Tahitians surrounded by the flora and fauna of what Gauguin saw as an exotic, primitive and pure land on the shores of the South Pacific. Using a colorful palette and broad brushstrokes he brought these lands to life. Less known are Gauguin’s many graphic works – the focus of this internal research project. He was an academically untrained draftsman and printmaker – free to be highly experimental with the materials and techniques that he used to make unconventional prints, monotypes and transfer drawings. To this day art historians and conservators puzzle over them. 

We use computational imaging to evaluate the surface structure of Gauguin’s graphic production with the aim of better understanding his printmaking and transfer processes. In collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago we have been capturing sequences of photos from known lighting directions and use these photos to separate color from surface shape using photometric stereo. The data is giving us new – and never-before-seen – visual documentation and insight into how Gauguin formed, layered, and re-used imagery interchangeably to make these works. Based on these measurements, we are now reconstructing his printmaking and transfer techniques with the ultimate aim of firmly establishing how Gauguin approached the art-making process in these varied works of art on paper.

For a concise look into how computational imaging works for this project, please click here.

Click here to see how light plays a key role in 3D shape recovery.

Northwestern University | The Art Institute of Chicago | The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
© 2013 Northwestern University and The Art Institute of Chicago