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Art Imitates Art: The Versatile Digital Canvas

June 9, 2016




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



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.”