Hidden Van Gogh self-portrait found behind another painting

Written Amarachi Ori, CNNLondon

Hidden self-portrait Vincent Van Gogh was discovered behind one of his paintings, covered in layers of glue and cardboard for over a century.

The image was found when restorers X-rayed Van Gogh’s 1885 head of a peasant woman ahead of an upcoming exhibition. According to a press release from the National Gallery of Scotland (NGS), they discovered a hidden image on the back of the canvas, hidden by a sheet of cardboard.

Experts say the discovered works of art were still unknown.

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

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

An x-ray study led to the discovery of Vincent van Gogh’s self-portrait on the back of a canvas of his 1885 painting Head of a Peasant Woman. Credit: Neil Hanna

The Dutch master frequently reused the canvases to save money by flipping them over to work on the reverse side, according to the NHS.

It is believed that the principal self-portrait was probably taken at a pivotal moment in Van Gogh’s career, when he was exposed to the work of the French Impressionists after moving to Paris.

The “extremely convincing” x-ray depicts “a bearded sitter in a brim hat and a neckerchief loosely tied around his neck. He stares intently at the viewer, the right side of his face is in shadow, and his left ear is clearly visible. “, the release says.

The Science of Preserving Priceless Art

Although the condition of the present self-portrait is unknown, it is expected that if it can be discovered, it will help shed new light on the famous artist.

The process of removing glue and cardboard will require delicate conservation. Research continues on how this can be done without harming the “peasant woman’s head”.

The painting, which depicts a local resident of the town of Nuenen in the south of the Netherlands, where the artist lived from December 1883 to November 1885, came into the possession of the NHS in 1960 as a gift from an Edinburgh lawyer.

"Head of a peasant woman" passed into the possession of the National Gallery of Scotland (NGS) in 1960.

The Peasant Woman’s Head came into the possession of the National Gallery of Scotland (NGS) in 1960. Credit: National Galleries of Scotland

According to a press release, around 1905, when The Head of a Peasant Woman was put on display at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the decision was made to glue canvas onto cardboard before framing. 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 made lightbox as it takes center stage in the Taste of Impressionism exhibition from 30 July to 13 November at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh.

Research continues on how to gently remove glue and cardboard without causing harm. "Head of a peasant woman."

Research is ongoing on how to carefully remove the glue and cardboard without damaging the Peasant Woman’s Head. Credit: Neil Hanna

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

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