An artist’s impression of Napoleon produced using a neural network (May 2020)

Artist(s) : UTERWIJK Bas
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An artist’s impression of Napoleon produced using a neural network (May 2020)
Portrait of Napoleon I created with the help of artificial intelligence © Bas Uterwijk

An astonishingly “life-like” image of Napoleon appeared on social networks this week. It was created with the help of artificial intelligence by dutch photographer Bas Uterwijk. wanted to find out more about how the artist created this image and we are delighted to share with you the answers he kindly provided.

See the portrait in high definition

Bas Uterwijk: I will tell a little about myself and the procedure I have used:

I am a photographer from Amsterdam with a background in computer graphics, special effects and 3D animation. About a year ago I started (as a hobby) creating images using a neural network. I am working with computer models that are trained on a huge variety of human faces. Through Artificial Intelligence and Deep learning this software [Artbreeder] is able to create near photo-realistic portraits based on my input combined with what it knows about human faces and the way light behaves in photography.

After I did a convincing restoration of Billy the Kid as an experiment, I started to work with inputting different paintings and sculptures to create famous people that lived before the invention of photography. The software I work with is developing fast and although I first tried doing Napoleon last year, the results were nice but not so perfect that I wanted to share it online. This month I picked up that particular project again and produced the image you have seen. The software is very good at some things but not perfect and it doesn’t work automatically so there is a lot of additional work and experimentation involved. I am constantly learning and chances are that this will not be the last version of Napoleon I will do. At the moment I am working simultaneously on several other historical people.

Sélection de portraits de Napoléon pour reconstitution faciale par ordinateur © Bas Uterwijk
Selection of portraits of Napoleon used for the computer-assisted facial reconstitution © Bas Uterwijk


Although I try to keep my personal input to a minimum, the portraits I make are artistic impressions. I try to let the facts I can find about a person’s face weigh in the eventual representation, but I am no scientist and don’t claim any historical accuracy. It also really depends on what material I can find online and how much is known. Because of the many depictions and even photographs of descendants in the case of Napoleon the results will be much closer to the “truth” than an impression of let’s say Jeanne d’Arc or Cleopatra of whom most depictions spring mostly from the mind of artists! Here is a selection of portraits of Napoleon that I used. Some took a prominent role in the process, for others the weight was minimal.

Below is one of many trees that I have made [in Artbreeder] while trying to find Napoleon’s face. A new face gets added when either crossbreeding with another painting or saving an intermediate face after adjustment with sliders. These sliders control physical appearance parameters like hair and eye colour, age, width, height etc. In the end it is the artist that decides which is the “right” direction so the human component is decisive for the end result.

Vue par arborescence du travail de Bas Uterwijk pour reconstituer le visage de Napoléon © Bas Uterwijk
A “tree” used by the photographer in Artbreeder © Bas Uterwijk


You may be interested in our Bullet Point # 34 – Which contemporary portrait of Napoleon most resembles him? (by Thierry Lentz)
Date :
Technique :
image created using computer-learning software
Photo credit :
Bas Uterwijk
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