Van Gogh Self-Portrait Hidden Behind Another Painting Discovered

Topline

The formerly anonymous self-portrait of famous Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh has been found hiding behind another painting, the National Galleries of Scotland announced on Thursday, an extraordinary search believed first for a UK institution.

Basic Facts

The self-portrait was found under layers of cardboard and glue on the back of another Van Gogh painting called “Head of a Peasant Woman” after it was X-rayed before an upcoming exhibition, the National said Galleries of Scotland (NGS).

It is believed to have been hidden from clear sight for more than a century after being covered before an exhibition in the early 1900s and “almost certainly a formerly unknown” self-portrait of Van Gogh, NGS experts say. .

Van Gogh was known for reusing canvases to save money and often painted on the back rather than painting in previous work.

The photo shows a bearded sitter in a brimmed hat with a neckerchief loosely tied around the throat with his left ear — which Van Gogh famously slashed later in life — clearly visible.

NGS experts believe that painting was one of Van Gogh’s earliest works and was among his first studies in self-portraiture, a style he later came to know.

The self-portrait is still hidden under layers of glue and cardboard behind the “Head of a Peasant Woman” but the X-ray image will be shown to visitors at an upcoming exhibition in Edinburgh.

Key Background

Discoveries like this are “incredibly rare” and can happen once or twice in a conservator’s life, says Frances Fowle, senior curator at NGS. However, they are unheard of, and the newly discovered Van Gogh self-portrait joins a series of similar works by the Dutch artist found behind other canvases, including five on display at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Advances in science and technology and improved conservation methods have opened up new ways for experts to interrogate artworks without damaging them. As well as helping experts preserve or validate the artwork, it also allows more of these discoveries to be made. Infrared imaging, for example, has uncovered other work hiding under paintings such as the Mona Lisa and Botticelli’s “Man of Sorrows.”

What to Watch

Conservation efforts to eliminate self-portraits. NGS experts aren’t sure what condition the portrait is in or if it’s safe to discover. Any attempt to remove glue and cardboard “requires meticulous precautionary work” and research is ongoing to figure out how this can be done without hurting the “Head of a Peasant Woman,” NGS said. Uncovering the hidden painting will help “shed new light” on the artist, NGS added, noting that it likely did so at some point in his career.

Tangent

Another major art discovery was announced Wednesday after three unknown sketches by 20th Century artist Amedeo Modigliani were found by curators at an Israeli museum. The works were similarly discovered after X-rays of the artist “Nude with a Hat” were taken before an upcoming exhibition.

Further Reading

How art restorers discover hidden details in artworks (DW)