(Paris) “Why do you have your ear cut off?” In front of Van Gogh’s face, visitors to the VivaTech show were able to ask the question to the painter of Sunflowers, animated by an artificial intelligence (AI) developed by a Strasbourg start-up.

Hearing the painter’s voice, Karine, who is pacing the VivaTech salon, is ecstatic: “It’s great to be able to talk to him. […] It looks like he has a Belgian accent! she laughs.

His accent “is not Belgian but Dutch,” says Fatma Chelly, manager at start-up Jumbo Mana. “He’s from Amsterdam, we wanted him to speak with a Dutch accent.”

In front of the larger-than-life painter, visitors of all ages flock. Headphones on their ears, all they have to do is press a button to ask a question. Opposite, the 3D face of the artist responds to them.

“The question that comes up the most is why does he have his ear cut off? “, develops Christophe Renaudineau, the boss of Jumbo Mana, specialized in video games and AI.

“I cut off my left ear, while I was suffering from severe mental anguish and depression,” Van Gogh replies into headphones, and with captions below his face.

“I lost my job at the age of 23, I struggled to find my vocation at 26, and I suffered setbacks while setting up an artists’ studio in Arles,” replies the painter with a tragic fate, who shot himself in the chest and died at the age of 37.

Upon discovering the painter’s responses, “I see the emotion in people’s eyes. They speak with a dead person, who comes closer to reality,” says Fatma Chelly.

Beyond his face, the start-up sought to get as close as possible to the personality of Van Gogh. “We didn’t just want to make a chatbot (an AI capable of holding a conversation, editor’s note) or an avatar that chats with us. We wanted to have Van Gogh’s personality and reliable information about his life,” says Fatma Chelly.

To feed its database, the company collaborated with a historian specializing in the life of the painter, Wouter van der Veen.

“We recreated the personality of Vincent Van Gogh, really to bring historical figures back to life. It can also be completely fictional characters,” explains Christophe Renaudineau.

From October, this installation will be presented at the Musée d’Orsay, then for a year in Auvers-sur-Oise, “where Van Gogh ended his life”.