The National Galleries of Scotland announced on Thursday that a previously unknown self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh has been discovered hidden on the back of another artwork.
When art conservators at the Edinburgh gallery were using an X-ray machine to examine Dutch post-Impressionist Vincent van Gogh’s 1885 work, they accidentally discovered a self-portrait of Van Gogh.
The portrait shows a bearded man wearing a brimmed hat and a neckerchief that is loosely tied around his neck. His left ear, which the painter famously cut off in 1888 after tempers flared with Paul Gauguin, is clearly visible.
“For over a century, the self-portrait has been hidden from view on the back of the canvas with Head of a Peasant Woman and is covered by layers of glue and cardboard,” the museum said in a statement.
This work entered the National Gallery of Scotland collection in 1960 as a gift from a prominent Edinburgh lawyer. It shows a local woman from Nuenen, a town in the southern Netherlands where the artist lived from December 1883 to November 1885.
“Moments like this are incredibly rare. We have discovered an unknown work by Vincent van Gogh, one of the most important and popular artists in the world,” Prof Frances Fowle, senior curator of French art, said in a statement.
The gallery’s senior conservator, Lesley Stevenson said she felt “shock” to find the artist “looking out at us”. She said: “When we saw the X-ray for the first time, of course we were hugely excited.”
The gallery’s experts believe it is possible to uncover the hidden self-portrait, but that removing the glue and cardboard will require delicate conservation work. Research is ongoing to determine how that can be done without harming the painting.
Vincent Van Gogh started painting on both sides of the canvas when he was low on money. Over time, some of his paintings were covered up and lost. Now, another of his hidden self-portraits has been discovered, this time at the National Galleries of Scotland.