- BBC News World
An unknown self-portrait by Vincent Van Gogh was discovered on the back of another painting, where it was hidden.
The find 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 by layers of glue and cardboard on the back of a work called “Peasant Woman’s Head”.
The gallery’s senior curator, Lesley Stevenson, said she was “shocked” to find the artist “looking at us”.
“When we first saw the X-ray, of course we were very excited.”
“This is a significant discovery because it adds to what we already know about Van Gogh’s life,” he explained.
The Dutch artist 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 came only after his death in 1890 when he was 37 years old.
Van Gogh became one of the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art.
“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 barrister.
It shows a local woman from the village of Nuenen, in the south of the Netherlands, where the artist lived from December 1883 to November 1885.
The story of the painting
Van Gogh is believed to have painted the self-portrait on the other side of the canvas later and at a key point in his career, after moving to Paris and being exposed to the work of the French Impressionists.
Some 15 years after her death, “Head of a Peasant Woman” was loaned to an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
It is believed that this was when the canvas was glued onto cardboard before it was framed.
It seems that “Head of a Peasant Woman” 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 was not until 1951 that it reached Scotland, having entered the collection of Alexander and Rosalind Maitland, who later donated it to the NGS.
Gallery experts said 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 underway to determine how such a process can be done without damaging a peasant woman’s head.
However, visitors to an exhibition in Edinburgh will be able to see 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 loosely around his neck. She fixes the viewer with an intense gaze, 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 to 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 previously been found painted on the backs of earlier canvases from the Nuenen period.
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