X-rays taken on a Vincent van Gogh painting have revealed a previously unknown self-portrait hidden on the back, according to a BBC report Wednesday. The discovery was made when experts from the National Galleries of Scotland scanned the artwork ahead of an upcoming exhibition.
On the back of the first works Peasant head (1884), restorers noticed the profile of a bearded man wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a scarf under the layers of glue and cardboard. Even though only the left side of her face is visible, the model maintains an intense and unmistakable gaze.
The discovery was a ‘shock’, said senior curator Lesley Stevenson BBC. “This is an important discovery because it adds to what we already know about Van Gogh’s life.”
The Dutch artist, whose work rose to prominence after his untimely death at age 37 in 1890, never reaped the rewards of his paintings. During his lifetime van Gogh often repurposed or used both sides of his canvases to save money. This is not the first time that another work has been discovered on the back of his paintings from this period.
Peasant head depicts a woman from the town of Nuenen in the Netherlands, where the artist lived from December 1883 to November 1885. The self-portrait on the back, however, is believed to have been painted after he moved to Paris in 1886.
About 15 years after his death, the painting was loaned to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam for an exhibition, which experts say is when the cardboard backing was added to the canvas and framed. During its lifetime, the painting changed owners several times. It did not arrive in Scotland until 1951, when it entered the collection of Alexander and Rosalind Maitland. The prominent Edinburgh lawyer then donated it to the National Gallery of Scotland in 1960.
Conservators are further investigating whether it is possible to remove the glue and cardboard without damaging the work.
Visitors to the exhibition “A Taste for Impressionism: French Modern Art from Millet to Matisse,” which is scheduled to open July 30, will be able to view the X-ray image in a light box.
“Moments like this are incredibly rare,” said Frances Fowle, senior curator of French art at the National Galleries of Scotland. BBC. “We have discovered an unknown work by Vincent van Gogh, one of the most important and popular artists in the world.”
This news follows the discovery of three sketches by Amedeo Modigliani hidden under a painting of a naked woman. The sketches were found using X-ray technology while studying the painting ahead of an exhibition in October at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.