The image was found when art conservators took an X-ray of Van Gogh’s 1885 painting Head of a Peasant Woman ahead of an upcoming exhibition. According to a press release from the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS), they discovered the hidden image on the back of the canvas, covered by a sheet of cardboard.
Experts say the unveiled artwork is said to have been previously unknown.
“Moments like this are incredibly rare,” Frances Fowle, senior curator of French art at NGS, said in Thursday’s press release. “We have discovered an unknown work by Vincent van Gogh, one of the most important and beloved 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. Recognition: Nile Hanna
The Dutch champion often reused canvases to save money, flipping them over to work on the reverse, NGS said.
It is believed that the underlying self-portrait was probably created during a key moment in Van Gogh’s career when he came into contact with the work of the French Impressionists after moving to Paris.
The “absolutely convincing” X-ray image shows “a bearded sitter with a brimmed hat and a scarf tied loosely around his neck. He fixes the viewer with an intense gaze, the right side of his face in shadow and his left ear clearly visible,” the press release reads.
The science of saving priceless art
While the condition of the actual self-portrait is unknown, if it can be uncovered it is expected that it will help shed new light on the acclaimed artist.
The removal of the glue and the cardboard requires a careful restoration. How this can be done without damaging the “Head of a Farmer” is currently being researched.
The painting, which shows a woman from 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 NGS in 1960 as a gift from an Edinburgh lawyer.
Head of a Peasant Woman came into the possession of the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) in 1960. Recognition: National Galleries of Scotland
According to the press release, the decision to mount the canvas on cardboard before framing was probably made around 1905, when Head of a Peasant Woman was loaned for an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. NGS added that “Head of a Peasant Woman” was probably considered “more finished” than Van Gogh’s self-portrait at the time.
The painting changed hands several times before going to Scotland in 1951.
The x-ray will be on public view for the first time through a specially made light box when it will be the focal point of the exhibition ‘A Taste for Impressionism’ at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh from 30 July to 13 November.
Research is currently being carried out on how to carefully remove the glue and cardboard without damaging the “Peasant Woman’s Head”. Recognition: Nile Hanna
It is not the first time that paintings by famous artists have been discovered among other works.