Sensing the Surface: A Computer Vision Analysis of Claude Monet’s Water Lily Paintings


Sponsoring Agency
College of IST


From the 1890s until his death in 1926, Monet created canvases with increasingly textured and abstract surfaces. In 1912 he developed cataracts that significantly affected his sight. In 1914 (at age 74) he radically reinvented his style and, by 1922, described working in a “complete fog”. These stylistic shifts, coupled with Monet’s tendency to rework paintings, make many of his late Water Lily canvases difficult to date. We will develop state-of-the-art computer vision algorithms to analyze high-resolution images of Monet paintings. This will (a) generate hitherto unavailable information about the style and composition of these works for the benefit of art historians, curators, and conservators; (b) open new narratives about Impressionist painting that will be accessible to museum audiences; and (c) promote international knowledge exchange between humanities and computer science researchers. The originality of this seed project lies in its use of quantitative methodologies to break new ground in the investigation of Monet’s late creative practice, to offer more precise datings of works, and to determine the point at which Monet considered a painting to be “finished”. This seed project is an innovative collaboration between humanities and STEM disciplines and helps to realize the ambition of both the Penn State and the IST strategic plans.