“Look what I discovered,” wrote her colleague Lesley Stevenson.
Stevenson, a conservator at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, discovered the painting while x-raying another Van Gogh painting, Head of a Peasant Woman. before an exhibition – a routine step that normally does not reveal such a large find.
Hidden under layers of glue and cardboard on the Van Gogh was another painting on the back — a portrait of a man with a hat and a scarf tied around his neck.
“I saw it then and there: it was a self-portrait of Van Gogh on the back of our painting,” Fowle said.
The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has examined the X-ray of the newly discovered painting, which is “almost certainly” a Van Gogh self-portrait, the National Galleries of Scotland said in a press release. Still, experts are looking for ways to uncover it without damaging the painting under whose canvas it sits so they can confirm its authenticity.
Van Gogh was known for repurposing canvases due to lack of funds, and Scottish conservators believe that was the case here. Several other self-portraits from the Nuenen period – between 1883 and 1885 when Van Gogh lived in the southern Dutch city – were discovered on the backs of his paintings and now hang in museums in the Netherlands and the United States.
Conservators suspect so Eventually, the self-portrait was covered up to make room for the “Peasant Woman’s Head”. an 1885 study for a larger painting, The Potato Eaters, widely regarded as one of Van Gogh’s masterpieces. It was hidden in plain sight in a painting that had belonged to the National Galleries of Scotland for over 60 years.
Conservators preparing for the Impressionist art exhibition at Edinburgh’s Royal Scottish Academy said they didn’t expect much from the X-ray.
“This is a routine type of inquiry that conservators have been using for some time,” Stevenson said in an interview published by the National Galleries to promote the exhibition — and the possible new self-portrait by Van Gogh. “It gives us information about how the composition evolved, whether there were changes or not. Lo and behold, we were quite surprised to discover a completely different painting in the X-ray.”
Experts assume that the self-portrait was covered with cardboard around 1905 “when the peasant woman was loaned to an exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam,” according to a press release. “By this point, the Peasant Woman was obviously considered ‘more finished’ than Van Gogh’s self-portrait,” she added.
“Head of a Peasant Woman” changed hands several times in the years that followed, until it was acquired by private collectors in Scotland in 1960 and donated to the National Galleries.
“Knowing that [the newly uncovered self-portrait is] there – in a painting that is in the National Galleries of Scotland, in a collection owned by the Scottish people – is incredibly important and significant,” Stevenson said. “Hopefully it encourages people to come and see it.”
The National Galleries of Scotland already own three works by Van Gogh, painted between 1885 and 1889 – “and then all of a sudden we might have another one that’s probably the most exciting of them all,” Fowle said in the series of interviews that began on Sept Were released Thursday by the public art body.
That kind of “big” discovery “happens once, twice in a restorer’s life,” Stevenson said.
This particular find was “extra special,” she said, because she believes it was a self-portrait, and “there’s a special quality to these artist-of-artist images — they’re very enigmatic.” They give us a glimpse of how [the artist is] think to yourself.”
The announcement of the find early Thursday drew interest from social media users who joked They checked the backs of paintings in their homes just in case they contained a stray masterpiece or two.
But they might be disappointed: according to the Guardian, in a typical year, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam “receives up to 300 inquiries from people who think they own a lost Van Gogh. Very few of these make it into the museum and even fewer are found to be genuine.”