Making Courbet paintings that never existed

Gustave Courbet seascape paintings, real and fake


I’ve been on an artistic artificial intelligence kick recently, intrigued by all of the possibilities of things one can do with it. I wrote a while ago about the Met using an x-ray to find a painting hidden under the layers of paint of a finished Picasso painting, and then a tech company taking that x-ray imagery and using AI to “create” the painting. In a somewhat similar vein, I had the idea to input the keywords “Gustave Courbet Seascape Painting” into various text-to-image art generator apps, and thought that their ideas of what makes up a Gustave Courbet seascape to be pretty interesting … but of course the ones that are AI-generated, they’re obviously “Courbet paintings” that have never truly existed.

So with that long introduction, I ask you this: from this selection of four paintings below, can you tell which two are real Courbet seascapes, and which two are the result of artificial intelligence? Scroll down below the picture for the answer.

Gustave Courbet seascape paintings, real and fake
Four Gustave Courbet Seascape paintings; two are real, two are AI-generated.

Okay, here’s what we have, clockwise from top left: AI fake made by me; top right is Gustave Courbet, “The Wave,” from 1869; bottom right is an AI fake made by me, and bottom left is Gustave Courbet, “The Sea,” 1865. It’s interesting, maybe this isn’t as difficult as what I first thought when I made the AI fakes. When I first saw my fakes, I thought “these are really good,” in the sense of composition and the overall moody darkness that Courbet seems to like, but now that I’m seeing them next to the real ones, the real Courbets seem to have more-obvious brushstrokes, or at least they’re more obvious when seen at a large scale. So this begs the question, can I re-try my AI attempts to include brushstrokes? I’m sure I can … I’ll see what I can come up with. Or course this brings up all sorts of interesting art historical questions, and the possibilities of fakes, and so forth … but in the context of my own personal experiments, I think it’s pretty fascinating to see what AI can do. If you have any thoughts or feedback you’d like to share, please do so in the comments section below.

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