Founded in 1907, Lowy is recognized as the country's leading fine art services firm.

Art Imitates Art: The Versatile Digital Canvas

June 9, 2016

3 minute read

Digital Canvas
Art collectors sometimes find themselves in difficult situations. To
name a few…they loan their in-demand paintings to an exhibition and
then find themselves staring at a bare walls. They’ve discovered the
philanthropic (and substantial tax advantages) of gifting their art to a
museum, but can’t imagine living without it. A favorite canvas has
become too fragile to expose to the environment and has to be put
away. Or, they are blessed with multiple residences, but hate being
separated from the pieces they want to look at every day. There is a
state-of the-art, “have-your- cake-and- eat-it- too,” solution to each of
these problems — an enhanced digital reproduction that is a beautiful
and expertly-executed stand-in for the original work.
For years, serious collectors have relied on digital photography when
creating permanent records of their collections. Now, the digital
image can be transformed from a photograph to an artistic – even
painterly — replication. Michael Tramis, the art photographer at
Lowy’s Digital Photography Studio, describes the first step in the
process of capturing a museum-quality digital image. “First, I have to
determine the size of the piece and its medium — whether it is a
painting or a watercolor, for example – which determines the
appropriate lighting, “ He uses a medium format Hasselblad camera
and a custom professional lighting system, meeting the stringent
guidelines for cultural heritage imaging. “Ideally,” he says, “ the
camera, lighting, computer, and printer are all calibrated together to
ensure correct color output.”
The images obtained from the Hasselblad are so accurate that they
provide the Lowy conservation team with the perfect “canvas” for a
replication. In simplest terms, the conservator applies three-
dimensional brushstrokes to the photographic surface, adding
texture, depth, and finish, just like the original painting. But there is
nothing “simple” about the process or the results. Lowy’s Senior
Paintings Conservator, Lauren Rich, notes that she and her
colleagues draw upon their extensive backgrounds in Art History and
Fine Arts before they put brush to photograph. “We do extensive
research about the artist,” she says. “More importantly, we actually
have to think like the artist in determining what kind of bristle to use,
where a stroke should begin and end, and what kind of finish to
select.”
Rich recalls the first time Lowy created replications for a client. A
collector donated forty-five paintings, including works by Sargent,
Chase, and Hassam, to a museum, but wondered if there were a way
to have reminders of the art once it was gone. “The art was a part of
the family’s history,” Rich says. “It made sense to me that a
passionate collector would want to memorialize the works in his home
because they had so much meaning.”
Replications are also becoming increasingly important for the
collector who owns works that are fragile. The delicate watercolor that
is threatened by light can be preserved in storage, while a more
durable “twin” hangs in plain sight.
According to Rich, the “frosting,” so to speak, on any Lowy Digital
Canvas is the frame. A period-appropriate frame – one made of
exactly the right material, and with the right patina and carving, can
be created to complement a replication, completing the effect of a
real work of art.
“By marrying digital photography to techniques we use in
conservation and framing — our core capabilities at Lowy — we are
able to come up with incredible replications that are very convincing,”
Rich explains. “They are not meant to fool an expert. In fact, the
owner is required to formally acknowledge that the piece it is a copy
that will not be used unlawfully. But they do capture the look, feel,
and presence of the original work and enable our clients to surround
themselves with the art they love.”
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