- BBC News World
An unknown self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh was discovered on the back of another painting, where it was hidden.
The discovery came when experts from the National Gallery of Scotland subjected the canvas to X-rays ahead of an exhibition.
The hidden self-portrait was covered with layers of glue and cardboard on the back of a work titled “Peasant’s Head”.
The gallery’s senior curator, Lesley Stevenson, said she was “shocked” to see the artist “looking at us”.
“When we first saw the x-ray, we were of course very excited.”
“It’s an important discovery because it adds to what we already know about Van Gogh’s life,” he explained.
The Dutch artist has often reused canvas to save moneyturning them over and then working on the other side.
His work did not sell during his lifetime and his fame only came after his death in 1890 when he was 37 years old.
Van Gogh became one of the most famous and influential figures in Western art history.
“Head of a Peasant Woman” entered the collection of the National Gallery of Scotland (NGS) in 1960, as part of a gift from a prominent Edinburgh lawyer.
It shows a woman from the village of Nuenen in the southern Netherlands, where the artist lived from December 1883 to November 1885.
The history of painting
Van Gogh is thought to have painted the self-portrait across the canvas later and at a key time in his career, after moving to Paris and being exposed to the work of the French Impressionists.
Some 15 years after her death, “Tête de paysanne” was lent for an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
It is believed that this was when the canvas was glued to cardboard before being framed.
It seems that “Peasant’s Head” was considered more “finished” than the self-portrait on the other side.
The painting changed hands several times and in 1923 it was acquired by Evelyn St Croix Fleming, whose son, Ian, became the creator of James Bond.
And it wasn’t until 1951 that it reached Scotland, having entered the collection of Alexander and Rosalind Maitland, who then donated it to the NGS.
Gallery experts say it is possible to uncover the hidden self-portrait, but the process of removing the glue and cardboard will require delicate conservation work.
Research is ongoing to determine how such a process can be performed without damaging a peasant woman’s head.
However, visitors to an exhibition in Edinburgh will be able to view the x-ray image for the first time through a specially designed light box.
It shows a bearded face with a wide-brimmed hat and a scarf tied around his neck. He stares intently at the viewer, the right side of his face in shadow and his left ear clearly visible.
Professor Frances Fowle, senior curator of French art at the Scottish National Galleries, described the discovery as “an incredible gift for Scotland”.
“Moments like this are incredibly rare. We have discovered an unknown work by Vincent Van Gogh, one of the most important and popular artists in the world,” he said.
Several of these self-portraits and other works have already been found painted on the back of earlier canvases from the Nuenen period.
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