Vincent Van Gogh ((Zundert, Netherlands, 1853- Auvers-sur-Oise, France, 1890) paints frantically and on any material at hand. When there is no money to buy canvases, or while waiting for the arrival of the supplies sent by his brother, Theo, was able to even enjoy tablecloths and kitchen towels. He also used works that had already been completed, and this is exactly the case with the recently discovered Portrait of a Peasant Woman in a White Cap (1885). In front, appears the young woman, represented in oil. Two years later, Van Gogh painted a self-portrait on the back that had remained hidden until now. It was covered in a thick layer of glue and cardboard, but an X-ray examination by experts from the National Gallery of Scotland, which has had it in its collection since 1960, revealed this.
The discovery was made by chance, during a research work on the painting of the peasant woman for an exhibition entitled A taste for impressionism (The taste of impressionism). Given the situation, it will be displayed alongside the captured X-ray images so that the self-portrait can also be seen. Once the exhibition is closed, the restorers of the museum will try to recover the face of the painter, but without rushing. Frances Fowle, curator of the Scottish room – which opened in Edinburgh – told the British press that this process “must be done very carefully and we don’t want to rush it”.
From Amsterdam, where the museum that bears the name of the artist, his colleague Louis van Tilborgh, has no doubts about the authenticity of the self-portrait. As a seasoned researcher and specialist in the work of his compatriot, he specifies on the telephone that “it is part of a kind of series, because Van Gogh has at least eight paintings in which he painted himself behind the canvas” . The artist meticulously prepared the canvases before working, “in order to be able to paint from behind, which gives them added value. From the point of view of art and emotions, of course. Paintings like this, found in Scotland, are in public collections, so it’s not for me to talk about monetary value.”
At the Scottish Museum, they calculate that the layers of glue and cardboard were laid on the painting around 1905. The work was being prepared for an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in the Dutch capital itself, and the face of the peasant was to be considered more interesting —complete— than a seemingly unfinished self-portrait. According to data provided by the Edinburgh Museum, the painting of the peasant woman was acquired in 1923 by Evelyn Saint Croix Fleming, the mother of Ian, the author of the James Bond spy books. In 1960 he came to the museum.
The young model in Van Gogh’s painting could have been Gordina de Groot, nicknamed Sien, who is already among the guests of the canvas family eating potatoesalso from 1885. In 1887, the date currently attributed to the hidden self-portrait, Van Gogh came into contact with the work of Impressionists such as Émile Bernard or Paul Gauguin. The use of color now changes and light floods his palette.
His dedication to art and to his profession gives his works a special intensity. An exaltation which, together with his mental and health problems, ended up leading him to the sanatorium of Saint-Rémy de Provence, in the south-east of France. It was in 1889 and he arrived there from Arles, where one ear had been cut off in an episode of psychosis. Because he was afraid of relapsing, he entered the hospital of his own free will. Despite its problems, it was a prolific period. However, only a year later, he moved to Auvers-sur-Oise, a town near Paris, where he ended up shooting himself in the chest.
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