Speed Reads

How Van Gogh self-portrait was discovered by X-ray

The previously hidden artwork will go on display later this month

Art experts have discovered a previously unknown self-portait of Vincent van Gogh hidden behind another of his paintings.

The “ghostly image of the artist” was found when one of his known works, Head of a Peasant Woman, was recently X-rayed before an exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh, said The Art Newspaper.

The self-portrait was hidden under layers of glue and cardboard. Head of a Peasant Woman, which dates from 1885, was donated to the gallery in 1960 and has remained there ever since.

Senior paintings conservator Lesley Stevenson said the finding was “absolutely thrilling” and a “shock”. 

“This is a significant discovery because it adds to what we already know about Van Gogh’s life,” she said.

The portrait of Van Gogh, one of western history’s most influential artists, is thought to be part of a series of experimental self-portraits he painted on the back of canvases during his time in Nuenen, the Netherlands, between 1883 and 1885.

The artist was “known for reusing canvas to save money by turning it round and working on the opposite side”, said Metro.

Five similar portraits are displayed at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, but the newly discovered sketch is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK, which Libby Brooks at the The Guardian described as an “extraordinary find”.

Research is now taking place to determine how the self-portrait can be separated from the original painting without damaging it, something Stevenson said was “like stepping into the unknown”. 

In the meantime, visitors can view the self-portrait at the exhibition A Taste for Impressionism at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh from 30 July to 13 November. A specially crafted lightbox has been made so viewers can see the new discovery as an X-ray image.

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