In October, a New York’s Christie’s auction house put a painting up for sale that was expected to pull in somewhere between $7,000- $10,000. Instead, the artwork went for a staggering $432,00, garnering more than 40 times its projected revenue. Perhaps the most fascinating part of the story is that the painting was a blurry portrait of a man who never existed, by an artist who never drew a single breath.

The mysterious House of Belamy

The painting was titled “Portrait of Edmond Belamy,” though Belamy himself is not an actual person. The portrait of Edmond, along with those of his fellow fictional family members, was the creation of an artificial intelligence named GAN or “generative adversarial network.”


As Christie’s would later explain, the AI was programmed by a French art collective called Obvious, who trained it to mimic human-style art.

Putting the ‘art’ back in artificial intelligence

“On one side is the Generator, on the other the Discriminator. We fed the system with a data set of 15,000 portraits painted between the 14th century to the 20th,” explained collective member Hugo Caselles-Dupré.

“The Generator makes a new image based on the set, then the Discriminator tries to spot the difference between a human-made image and one created by the Generator. The aim is to fool the Discriminator into thinking that the new images are real-life portraits. Then we have a result.”

The first of its kind

The AI then prints out a final image and signs it with the algorithm used to produce the “painting.” The goal of the collective is to explore the advancements of AI through the use of art, as well as determine what the results could mean for the art world.

In the process, it seems that Obvious has produced a budding new artist in their own right. The portrait was the first piece of AI produced artwork ever to be sold at a major auction house.