As It Happens

'They all look miserable': British artist uses FaceApp to turn Rijksmuseum frowns upside down

Ollie Gibbs gave the the miserable ladies and noblemen of the Rijksmuseum a little joie de vivre using FaceApp.
Listen5:03

read story transcript

Ollie Gibbs and his girlfriend were walking around the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam last week, when they noticed a common theme among the portraits and sculptures,

"They all look miserable," the British designer and illustrator told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"You imagine you'd been sitting there for, I don't now, five hours, waiting for someone to paint you, you're not gonna look particularly happy. So imagine yourself in that situation, you'll probably recognize that face."

Then his girlfriend mentioned that she had FaceApp on her phone — an app that transforms pictures of people's faces by aging them or changing their expressions. So they started going around the museum and giving the miserable ladies and noblemen on display a little joie de vivre.

"They're meant to be regal. They've got kind of an importance about them, which, of the time, is exactly what you'd expect. I guess when you're so used to in this modern world, everything is kind of photoshopped, everything is a little bit false in a way," Gibbs said.

"This is why these apps come out, to make everyone a bit happier than they are."

(Olly Gibbs)

But not every painting subject came out looking happy.

"Some of them are a little bit creepy. There's one in particular," Gibbs said. 

"He's got these two cherubs above him and he's looking very miserable, but he's got his hands out like he's holding something ... it's all a bit odd in the first place, but when you add the FaceApp over the top, it has this proper big toothy grin, which gives him this creepy look."

The pictures went viral on Twitter generating tens of thousands of shares.

"It's been five or six days since I posted it and I'm still getting a lot of retweets and likes and it's still getting shared a lot," he said. "It's been an interesting ride over the past week."

(Olly Gibbs)

Other museums invited him to come visit, and the Rijksmuseum weighed in to express its pleasure with the project.

"I was a little bit worried actually that maybe I'd done something bad about the paintings and kind of disregarded the intention or the original artist, but they seemed to have taken it in good jest, which is good," Gibbs said.

Some people have reached out to say they're going to check out their local museums because of his posts, he said. 

"If I got more people to go museums and galleries and get inspired, then that's really cool, especially as an artist myself. That's somewhere I'd visit to try and get inspiration," he said.

"So the fact that other people might be doing the same because of this silly little thing is really cool."

And while he's done wiping the frowns off portraits' faces, he has since taken to turning them into animated GIFs, complete with art puns. 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.