Dr. Roman Maev is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Windsor, Canada, whose research interests lie in theoretical fundamentals of physical acoustics, ultrasonic and nonlinear acoustic imaging, nano-technology and advanced research in art analysis. Apart from being author of multiple publications, he holds 32 US and International Patents and is a Fellow of such organizations, as the Canadian Association of Physicists, the American Society for Nondestructive Testing and the British Institute of Non-Destructive Testing (BINDT).
Moreover, Dr. Maev is the founding Director-General of The Institute for Diagnostic Imaging Research (IDIR) at Windsor, which is a multi-disciplinary, collaborative research and innovation consortium established in 2008 aiming to create a leading S&T centre in imaging research. The Ministry of Research and Innovation of Canada supported the foundation of IDIR and provided an initial research grant. Maev also directs Tessonics Corporation (among whose partners are Chrysler, BMW, Mercedes, Boeing and other companies) and its outpost in the UK, The True Image Solution, which has been actively involved into developing and testing of the innovative methods for art and heritage object analysis since 2007. Dr. Maev supervised a number of unique UK projects in collaboration with the English Heritage and the National Trust, Hamilton Kerr Institute, the Cambridge University and Fitzwilliam Museum. In May 2016 Dr. Maev organized a symposium “Analyzing Art: New Technologies – New Applications” at the Canada House, Trafalgar Square, London. The idea for this inaugural event was to introduce the global art and technology communities to each other, with the goal to revolutionize the cultural heritage industry. The second symposium under the same title will be held at The State Russian Art Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia, July 25th to 27th, 2018. The conference and accompanying workshops will focus on non-destructive testing for the preventive conservation of art.
You are an innovative company which uses non-invasive methods in art-analysis. What does this mean?
This means that we are a cross-disciplinary company, working at the intersection of science and art. With the help of our mobile, portable laboratory equipment, we are implementing a variety of diagnostic methods which help to analyse, conserve, catalogue, inventory and protect works of art from forgery.
Who are your major clients in the UK and overseas?
We work with such leading museums and art institutions, as the English Heritage, the National Trust, the Hamilton Kerr Institute, Cambridge University and Fitzwilliam Museum, the Courtauld Institute, Victoria & Albert Museum, the Waddesdon Manor, the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum in USA, the Aga Khan Museum of Islamic Art, Iranian Art and Muslim Culture in Toronto, the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. We also collaborate with auction houses, private art dealers and collectors in the USA, UK and China.
What was your major reason for starting up this business — after all, you were (and still are) perfectly successful in motor and aviation industries?
First, we wanted to help. The leading museums, like the National Gallery in London, even if they do have their own art analysis laboratories, are still inaccessible to small museums, private museums, private gallery owners or collectors of art. Certainly, one may approach private experts and laboratories, requesting them to carry out a pigment or other type of analysis, but this will be a costly and long-drawn procedure. Moreover, the work of art will be kept in the laboratory all that time, much to the chagrin of the owner and his insurance company. This means that art owners are left without much technological support, to say nothing of them using the recent cutting–edge equipment. Optimisation of multi-functional digital image processing in real time is a major research goal of modern technology laboratories. We saw it as our mission to create such an advanced state-of-art mobile laboratory that could instantly arrive at the client’s premises and carry out an exhaustive analysis of the artwork in owner’s presence. We see a great potential and a possible market niche here, and we hope to offer a solution to the current situation.
That is, bringing hi-tech to the art world. Which services can you offer to the museums and private clients alike?
We develop and continue improving our own image processing software. We do spectral processing, craquelure pattern recognition, canvas density measurement. We can also offer a non-invasive pigment analysis (via high resolution optical microscopy; digital X-ray imaging and X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy XRF, thus, identifying lead white, vermillion etc.). We do Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy and Raman spectroscopy for analysis of the pigment composition and pigment layers; detect altered regions and underdrawings; identify areas with refreshed varnish (either via near-and–short infrared, or mid-and-far infrared, or Ultra-violet fluorescence). If it becomes difficult to obtain information or get satisfactory results with one method of analysis, then we can always try another one. Sometimes one needs to alternate or apply the whole array of methods at once.
The general fatigue growth dynamics analysis establishes defects, cracks and areas in need of restoration. With aid of thermography, ultrasonic inspection and acoustic imaging we can prevent possible physical damage to the artwork before it occurs. We do this for paintings, metal and wooden sculpture, fabric and paper.
What does the craquelure pattern recognition mean?
Well, let me refer to our joint project with Dr Spike Bucklow of Hamilton Kerr Institute. Spike is a leading world expert specialising in craquelure pattern analysis. Depending on pattern, his method can identify if the painting originates from Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Germany or other country. He has got his own extensive database. Recently, we developed our own algorithms based on the principles of “deep learning” (a complex algorithm structure which builds hierarchy of data at multiple levels and allows a system to learn complex functions on the basis of input data without depending completely on human-crafted features). Recently, we have demonstrated that our software and our devices can identify the craquelure pattern with 97% precision.
Having studied the situation, we have developed series of techniques for Old Master paintings and analysis of craquelure, which means, the process of craquelure’s digitization and breaking down of the whole craquelure surface into individual areas. After that, we switched from craquelure to base (canvas, wood or paper). By the way, paper is our recent achievement. We have excellent results on canvases. We can identify the country and even the city of origin. We do the same with wooden panels. We filter out and digitize the essential information about an object and its base. We can do the same for rice paper or silk, for example. And there is a huge demand and a big market for the analysis like this in China, where most works of art were created either on rice paper or silk. Paper has an interesting complex structure which, along with the surface, it owns to the original printing house. And silk is a material close to canvas (the fibres and threads are different, but the principle of analysis is approximately the same), or at least we can apply a similar analysis technique.
We also conduct the direction of brushstrokes analysis. This is especially important for early modernist paintings, like those by Van Gogh. Say, when one is making a fake, they attempt to imitate the brushwork of the artist. However, if we talk of Van Gogh and his brush technique, the artist was very impulsive, emotional, and, therefore, it is impossible to reproduce these brushstrokes precisely simply by technique, as they are somewhat unpredictable.
In the same manner, it is impossible to have same pigment composition in an imitated brushstroke – just technically impossible. We can make a 3D-image of an artist’s brushstroke and its pigment composition. Further, we can analyse these pigments separately and establish which pigments the artist used in this particular individual brushstroke and the overall painting surface. We do this with the help of fluorescent X-ray. We have carried out a similar analysis for the Courtauld Institute in London. And it was a very interesting process.
So, in this case, Edward Lucy-Smith was right, when saying, that you are ushering in a new era of connoisseurship, which rules out random subjective errors of experts? Also, why did you choose London?
First of all, I would like to emphasise, that although new technology can be of big help to art specialists, it is in no way acts as substitute for their knowledge, expertise or their keen eye. We carry all our laboratory analyses in collaboration with art historians and art experts in their areas. What we can do, is technically confirm (or disprove) and demonstrate what the expert may intuit. In any case, technical analysis takes place along the guidelines provided by art experts or in response to the questions they wish to find an answer to regarding a certain work of art. Here, we are just humble scientists, who work in their own area and do not seek to usurp the field we are not specialists in
Answering your next question, we find London a very attractive place to work as it is the major centre of the global art world. It can boast of a high concentration of museums, galleries and art professionals here, perhaps, like nowhere else. It also happened that I have a good relationship with various auction houses here in London. Due to the strictly confidential nature of their work, auction houses are very cautious in choosing partners, but we are patient and try to build up trusting business relationships with them. Besides, London is a hub of various important collections and art foundations. We have already met with several of them, and we see that there is a great need in the system of monitoring and managing of this collections, as artworks constantly move from exhibition to exhibition, or from one collector to another by sale. Many of these art foundations and collections also need assistance with conservation and preventive diagnostics. And this is exactly what we specialise in.
What else do you offer to your clients?
We help to inventory, protect and authenticate works of art. By using a coding system which operates in the fuzzy-logic mode, we encrypt information about the art object (e.g. the object report, craquelure pattern and canvas density analysis; a 3D image and a composite pigment analysis of the individual brushstroke or the overall brushstroke pattern of the artwork) obtained by means of non-invasive analysis. The brushstroke analysis is a particularly reliable technique, which recognises the original and detects a fake with a 100% guarantee. The relevant encoded information can be stored on our or client’s preferred database like i-Cloud. Or, else, saved on a very reliable RFID (radio-frequency identification chip) medium. It may not necessarily look like a chip, but a very fine electronic dust, imperceptibly rubbed into the painting’s hidden spot, which keeps it unidentifiable and, as a result, unremovable. RFID can store information for over 100 years and can be also very handy for monitoring and instant identification of art in storage or in transportation. According to the procedure, the owner sends out a signal to painting’s RFID, and if the data on their database correspond with that stored on RFID, the owner will get a response on his device. This means that the artwork has been recognised by the system as the original and passed the identification test.
Detroit has a large restoration centre that works with commissions arriving from at least four major states in US. Its leader Ken Katz is an exceptionally professional restorer and scholar with an extensive publications record. We collaborate with him very closely and enjoy working together. At some point, he approached me with a request to create an RFID monitoring system for him, so that he could optimise the process of working with the range of paintings being restored in his studio. Our task was to create a digital inventory and monitoring system for them. The paintings arrive for restoration from various museums and auction houses – literally, in thousands. And sometimes they need to be identified and dealt with very quickly.
Oh, my! Is this all very expensive?
Depending on the scope of the required analysis, I can guarantee that the cost is considerably less than in a traditional laboratory. And it is carried out on the same day. No long waits! Actually, we worked with a number of art dealers who were able to confirm the authenticity of the object they were offering, and reported successful sales afterwards. Get in touch with us and see for yourselves.