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How Image Analysis Can Detect Art Forgeries

Mathematician to speak on use of wavelets in art authentication

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Ingrid Daubechies  -- winner of the 2012 Nemmers Prize in Mathematics and a 1992 MacArthur “genius” award -- will give a talk titled “The Master’s Hand: Can Image Analysis Detect the Hand of the Master?” Wednesday, April 24, at Northwestern University.

Daubechies will describe how her work with wavelets, a mathematical tool that identifies patterns in large sets of data, has been used to study and authenticate paintings by van Gogh, Gauguin, Giotto and other artists. She is the James B. Duke Professor of Mathematics at Duke University.

By analyzing paintings as a mass of individual data points, wavelets can identify common patterns across an artist’s body of work, such as a particular style of brushstroke. The patterns can then be compared across other data points, or other pieces of art, to identify discrepancies and highlight potential copies or frauds.

Daubechies’ cross-disciplinary lecture will take place at 4 p.m. in Room 107 of Harris Hall. A reception in the Leopold Room of Harris Hall will follow. The free and public talk is presented by the departments of mathematics and art history and by NU-ACCESS, a collaboration of the Northwestern and Art Institute of Chicago’s Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts.

Daubechies’ work on wavelets was featured in an episode of the PBS television series “NOVA.” In that episode, competing university teams used mathematical models to detect a commissioned copy of a van Gogh painting.

Daubechies’ work on wavelets had a profound impact on the extensive field of mathematical research known as computational harmonic analysis, and has had powerful applications in data compression, compressed sensing and digital communications. Its influence is realized daily in millions of consumer and technology products, including communication systems, medical imaging and seismic exploration. Her mathematical wavelet formulas, for example, compress and translate images uploaded from a cell phone to a Facebook account.

Daubechies was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1993 and to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 1998. She is the author of “Ten Lectures on Wavelets,” for which she won the American Mathematical Society Steele Prize for Exposition in 1994. She was the first woman to serve as president of the International Mathematical Union and the first woman to receive the National Academy of Sciences Award in Mathematics.

The lecture is sponsored by the Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize bequest. Presented by Northwestern University, the Nemmers Prize in Mathematics carries a $200,000 stipend and recognizes major contributions to new knowledge or the development of significant new modes of analysis. Nemmers Prizes also are awarded in economics and music.

For more about the Nemmers Prize, lectures and laureates, visit For more about the April 24 lecture, contact Cheryl Albiniak at