Hidden Van Gogh Self-Portrait Found Behind Another Painting

Written by Amachi Orie, CNNLondon

A hidden self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh has been discovered behind one of his paintings, covered by layers of glue and cardboard for more than a century.

The image was found when art conservators X-rayed Van Gogh’s 1885 painting “Head of a Peasant Woman” ahead of an upcoming exhibition. They discovered the hidden image on the back of his canvas hidden by a sheet of cardboard, according to a press release from the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS).

Experts say the revealed artwork is believed to have been unknown until now.

“Moments like this are incredibly rare,” Frances Fowle, senior curator of French art at the NGS, said in Thursday’s news release. “We have discovered an unknown work by Vincent van Gogh, one of the most important and popular artists in the world.”

An X-ray examination led to the discovery of a self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh on the back of the canvas of his 1885 painting. "Head of a peasant woman."

An X-ray examination led to the discovery of a self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh on the back of the canvas of his 1885 painting “Head of a Peasant Woman.” Credit: neil hannah

The Dutch master often reused canvases to save money, turning them over to work on the reverse, NGS said.

It is believed that the underlying self-portrait was probably made during a key moment in Van Gogh’s career, when he was exposed to the work of the French Impressionists after moving to Paris.

The “utterly convincing” X-ray image shows “a bearded model wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a loose scarf tied around his throat. He fixates the viewer with an intense gaze, the right side of his face in shadow and his left ear clearly visible”. ”, according to the statement.

The science of saving priceless art

While the condition of the actual self-portrait is unknown, if it can be discovered, it is hoped it will help shed new light on the renowned artist.

The glue and cardboard removal process will require delicate conservation work. Research is ongoing on how this can be done without damaging the “Head of a Peasant Woman”.

The painting, which shows a local woman from the town of Nuenen in the southern Netherlands, where the artist lived from December 1883 to November 1885, came into the possession of the NGS in 1960 as a gift from a lawyer from Edinburgh.

"head of a peasant woman" It came into the possession of the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) in 1960.

“Head of a Peasant Woman” came into the possession of the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) in 1960. Credit: Scottish National Galleries

It was probably around 1905, when “Peasant Woman’s Head” was loaned for an exhibition at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, that the decision was made to glue the canvas onto cardboard before framing it, according to the press release. The NGS added that, at the time, “Head of a Peasant Woman” was probably considered more “finished” than Van Gogh’s self-portrait.

The painting changed hands several times until it arrived in Scotland in 1951.

The X-ray image can be seen publicly for the first time through a specially designed light box when it takes center stage at the “A Taste for Impressionism” exhibition between July 30 and November 13 at the Royal Scottish Academy, in Edinburgh.

Research is ongoing on how glue and cardboard can be gently removed without damaging "Head of a peasant woman."

Research is ongoing on how the glue and cardboard can be delicately removed without damaging the “Head of a Peasant Woman”. Credit: neil hannah

It is not the first time that paintings by famous artists have been discovered under other works.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that an intriguing image of a Madonna and Child had been discovered beneath the paint layers of a $40 million Botticelli painting.
And artificial intelligence, advanced imaging technology and 3D printing were used to uncover a nude portrait of a crouching woman hidden beneath the surface of a Pablo Picasso painting last year.

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