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Two important visual properties of paintings and painting-like images are the absence of texture details and the increased sharpness of edges as compared to photographic images. Painting-like artistic effects can be achieved from photographic images by filters that smooth out texture details, while preserving or enhancing edges and corners. However, not all edge preserving smoothers are suitable for this purpose. We present a simple nonlinear local operator that generalizes both the well known Kuwahara filter and the more general class of filters known in the literature as ldquocriterion and value filter structure.rdquo This class of operators suffers from intrinsic theoretical limitations which give rise to a dramatic instability in presence of noise, especially on shadowed areas. Such limitations are discussed in the paper and overcome by the proposed operator. A large variety of experimental results shows that the output of the proposed operator is visually similar to a painting. Comparisons with existing techniques on a large set of natural images highlight conditions on which traditional edge preserving smoothers fail, whereas our approach produces good results. In particular, unlike many other well established approaches, the proposed operator is robust to degradations of the input image such as blurring and noise contamination.