Van Gogh’s hidden self-portrait discovered in Scotland thanks to x-rays: NPR

An x-ray image shows this previously unknown self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh painted on the back of his painting Head of a peasant.

Graeme Yule/National Galleries of Scotland


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Graeme Yule/National Galleries of Scotland


An x-ray image shows this previously unknown self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh painted on the back of his painting Head of a peasant.

Graeme Yule/National Galleries of Scotland

When Vincent Van Gogh ran out of money, he took to painting on both sides of the canvas, but over the years some of his paintings on the back were covered and lost. Now another of his hidden self-portraits has been discovered, this time at the National Galleries of Scotland.

“Moments like this are incredibly rare,” Frances Fowle, senior curator of French art, said in a statement. “We have discovered an unknown work by Vincent van Gogh, one of the most important and popular artists in the world.”

The self-portrait was revealed during an x-ray of an 1885 painting by Van Gogh, head of a peasant, as the museum prepared for an upcoming exhibition on Impressionism, which is scheduled to open at the end of the month.

“Hidden for more than a century, the self-portrait is on the back of the canvas with Peasant head and is covered in layers of glue and cardboard,” the museum said in a statement Thursday.

by Van Gogh Peasant head is one of three pieces of the artist’s work in the collection of the National Galleries. With the discovery of the hidden self-portrait, they now have four works in total.

National Galleries of Scotland


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National Galleries of Scotland


by Van Gogh Peasant head is one of three pieces of the artist’s work in the collection of the National Galleries. With the discovery of the hidden self-portrait, they now have four works in total.

National Galleries of Scotland

Museum experts believe the materials covering the newly discovered self-portrait were applied in the early 20th century before the art was on display.

“When we first saw the X-ray, of course, we were extremely excited. Such a significant discovery happens once, twice in a conservator’s lifetime,” senior painting conservator Lesley Stevenson said in a video published by the museum. “To have such an elusive image as now is something very, very special.”

It’s not yet clear if it will be possible to uncover the hidden self-portrait, but that doesn’t mean you can’t see it. An x-ray image of the ghostly portrait will be part of the upcoming exhibit, viewable using a special light box.

The museum describes the newly discovered image as “a bearded model wearing a wide-brimmed hat with a scarf loosely tied at his throat. He stares intently at the viewer, the right side of his face in shadow and his ear left clearly visible.”

This self-portrait is not the first hidden painting by Van Gogh to be discovered and it may not be the last. Other double-sided works by Van Gogh have already been discovered, notably in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. The famous artist also painted over his work at times.

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