Monday, August 8, 2022

Invisible self-portrait by Van Gogh found under an earlier painting

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A painting that is “most likely” a previously unknown self-portrait by Vincent Van Gogh has been discovered by the National Galleries of Scotland.

The extraordinary find is considered a first for a British institution and was discovered through an X-ray taken by Van Gogh head of a peasant woman (1885) before the forthcoming exhibition A Taste for Impressionism at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh.

Hidden for over a century, the portrait on the back of the canvas was found with it head of a peasant womancovered with layers of glue and cardboard, believed to have been applied before an exhibition in the early 20th century.

Van Gogh was known for reusing canvas to save money by turning it over and working on the opposite side.

The portrait shows a bearded sitter with a brimmed hat and a scarf loosely tied around her neck. His left ear, which he famously cut off in 1888, is clearly visible.

It is believed to derive from his early work and his first exploration of self-portraiture, for which he later became known.

Viewers can see the sketch as an x-ray through a specially designed lightbox.

While it is possible to separate the paintings, removing the glue and cardboard requires careful restoration. How this can be done without damage is currently being researched head of a peasant woman.

The discovery was described as “exciting” by Professor Frances Fowle, Senior Curator of French Art at the National Galleries of Scotland. She said: “Moments like this are incredibly rare.

“We have discovered an unknown work by Vincent Van Gogh, one of the most important and beloved artists in the world.

“What an incredible gift to Scotland and one that will forever remain in the care of the National Galleries. We are very excited to share this exciting discovery in our major summer exhibition, A Taste for Impressionism, where the self-portrait x-ray will be available for all to see.”

Lesley Stevenson, senior painting conservator at the National Galleries, said they were “thrilled to the core” to have discovered the portrait.

“Of course, when we first saw the X-ray, we were very excited,” she said.

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

“There’s a lot to think about in terms of the next steps, but for us it’s another little nugget to bring us a little closer to an incredible artist.

“To know that it is in a painting that is in the National Galleries of Scotland in a collection owned by the Scottish people is incredibly important and meaningful.

“Hopefully it encourages people to come and check it out.”

Art lovers can view the portrait as part of the exhibition, which runs from July 30 to November 13.

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