Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Group of Artists (Painters of the Brücke), 1926; Ludwig Museum, Cologne. Photo: © Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln.
There's quite a difference in color tone between the authentic photo of this Kirchner painting and the altered version below, probably a modern reproduction. It looks as though someone has added a large dose of red to the palette, causing the faces to appear flushed, and everything else to become purple. Note the bright white newspaper, which has turned pink in the reproduction. Another clue: the central figure's outfit, which is green in the real-world painting, purple in the contemporary update. The photo above comes from Museum Ludwig's online catalog.
Altered version of a painting by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Spring Bouquet, 1866; Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum.
This is the famous and stunning still life by Renoir, shown above in an excellent photo from the museum where it's located. Sadly, thousands of revised modern copies and photos have been circulating online for years, rarely indicating that they aren't faithful to Renoir's original. Most of the modern versions, like the popular one below, add new colors, remove the subtleties of the original, and ignore much of the gorgeous, Dutch-inspired detail seen in the authentic work. The museum adds an informative note about Spring Bouquet:
For many French artists during the 1860s, the floral still life persisted as a test of pure painterly ability. This exuberant bouquet [...] attests to the artist's engagement with past art historical traditions. He addresses the ennobled Dutch practice of still life through the large scale of his canvas, while his attention to the textures and colors of the arrangement evokes the work of early eighteenth-century French painters like Antoine Watteau and François Boucher.
Altered version of a painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
Marc Chagall, The Acrobat, 1930; Marc Chagall Museum, Nice.
There seems to be a trend these days toward "enhancing" artwork photos by adding a yellow cast and heightening the contrast. Photos do vary in quality, so in some cases, it might be useful to brighten a dark photo or add back a little color to a faded image. But efforts should be made to retain the original coloration and to intensify rather than obscure existing details. In the Chagall reproduction below, possibly a highly altered digital image, the deepened reds, yellow clouds, blotchy background, and brownish tint only detract from the emotion, dynamics and overall intention of the work. If you're interested, the museum has a short audio about the painting, which is called "L'Acrobat." The audio is available in several languages.
Altered version of a painting by Marc Chagall.
Giacomo Balla, The Spell is Broken, c.1922; location unknown.
It's very difficult to find a high-resolution photo that accurately depicts this work by Giacomo Balla, and it's rarely been seen in public. The brightened, neon-colored reproduction shown at the bottom of this page is the most commonly used version, but it's clearly an altered, reimagined interpretation. The accuracy of the image above — actually a modern copy — is verified by a 2014 article about a Futurist exhibit at the Guggenheim (their photo was too small to be useful here), and is also confirmed by text from a black and white catalog of Futurist works: "The color tones range from white to pale pink, and to a brilliant shocking pink." The popular altered copy below, which doesn't contain any white or pale pink, doesn't match the description.
If a good first-hand photo isn't available for a particular artwork, the second best option is to find a reproduction that reflects known facts — or as here, a small, confirmed snapshot — as closely as possible.
Altered version of a painting by Giacomo Balla.
Camille Pissarro, Portrait of the Artist's Daughter, 1872; Yale University Art Gallery.
This beautiful Pissarro — detailed and impressionistically naturalistic — has been turned bright yellow in the modern reproduction shown below, removing a lot of detail, obscuring the life-like elements of the portrait and in general adding new coloration without apparent reason. Sadly, yellowed images of famous paintings are common online. It's especially frustrating when a first-hand photo is easily available at a museum's website. Why the yellow? It remains a mystery. Note the watermark of the commercial art vendor on the altered image. It's hard to tell if the real-world reproduction looks exactly like this, or if the image has been further edited during its online history. The photo above comes directly from the Yale University website.
Altered reproduction of a painting by Camille Pissarro.
Edward Hopper, New York Movie, 1939; Whitney Museum of American Art.
Edward Hopper's paintings are always naturalistic (although not necessarily hyper-realistic), with precise and thoughtful attention to light and shadow, foreground and background, details in even the least noticed places, and rich coloring overall. For example, notice the usherette's flesh tones in the Whitney's photo of New York Movie above. Hopper always manages to convey a sense of depth, space and actual life taking place within the frame. If an image that's supposedly of a Hopper work seems superficial, flat, uniform, lifeless or somewhat sketchy — as in the often seen, altered photos below — it would probably be best to look elsewhere for a more accurate copy.
Altered version of a painting by Edward Hopper.
Altered version of a painting by Edward Hopper.
Corrections or suggestions?
Vasily Kandinsky, Decisive Rose, 1932; © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
An interesting 1932 painting by Wassily (Vasily) Kandinsky, located at the Guggenheim. The title, Decisive Rose ( Entscheidendes rosa) is sometimes rendered incorrectly as Decision Pink. The altered version below is probably the result of a digital edit, which has blotted out some of the detail and added a bright yellow cast that isn't evident in the original. Not too much of a difference, but in general, if a questionable post offers a location, and the website is easily accessed, it's worth taking a moment to grab a first-hand photo.
Altered version of a painting by Kandinsky.
Paul Gauguin, Self Portrait With Hat, c.1893-94; © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay / Hervé Lewandowski.
It's a little hard to tell whether the altered version below is a recently painted copy of Gauguin's Self Portrait With Hat, or if it's just a highly processed photo. In either case, it's lost a lot of detail, removed some of the more naturalistic qualities of the original, added a yellowish tone to the overall picture, and in general fails to convey the essence of the authentic painting. The photo of the painting in its frame is from a framing professional's blog, and presumably shows the work on display at the Musée d'Orsay (unconfirmed).
Altered version of a painting by Paul Gauguin.
Natalie Goncharova, "The Orange Vendor," 1916; © VIG Bild-Kunst, Bonn; photo: Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln; Museum Ludwig, Cologne.
Although the reproduction shown below of The Orange Vendor by Natalie Goncharova (Natalja Gontscharowa) is clearly altered in significant ways, it's often seen online without any indication that it's a modern, revised copy. The color changes seem to be fairly random, with only passing reference to the original. There's also been excessive digital processing that has resulted in significant loss of detail. Modern copyists often trade accuracy for brightness and intensity, but efforts to appeal to modern tastes don't necessarily produce a more appealing picture.
Altered version of a painting by Natalie Goncharova.
Corrections or suggestions?
Yves Tanguy, "Through Birds, Through Fire But Not Through Glass," 1943; © Estate of Yves Tangy / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Minneapolis Institute of Art.
This impressive Tanguy painting, full of life, depth, resonance and power, has been turned conspicuously green in the altered version below, thus changing the overall appearance of the work and ultimately reducing its impact. Note the clean whites in the original, hints of white clouds and blue sky, with various primary colors imposed on a naturalistically hued landscape. It's helpful to keep in mind that abstractions which allude to real-world objects or settings often retain many aspects of the natural scenes they're depicting, despite their otherwise non-realistic, personalized depictions of reality. And images that look as though a colored filter has been applied — in this case, a yellow overlay — are usually revised copies that aren't necessarily faithful to the authentic work.
Note: The museum listing prohibits downloads, which might be one reason why altered versions appear online instead. Their photo is shown here solely for the purposes of comparison and education.
Altered version of a painting by Yves Tanguy.
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