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Joy

Gallery experts shocked to find an unseen Van Gogh painting hiding behind one of his works

It was found during an X-ray.

vincent van gogh, scottish national gallery, new van gogh

The Scottish National Gallery.

The National Galleries of Scotland made an incredible announcement on July 14. Experts at the Edinburgh gallery discovered a self-portrait by Vincent Van Gogh after taking an X-ray of his 1885 painting "Head of a Peasant Woman."

To find another painting by Dutch master Vincent Van Gogh 132 years after his death is an incredible discovery not only for the art world, but humanity. It’s like digging up a hidden track by the Beatles, a secret notebook by Isaac Newton or unreleased poems by Langston Hughes.

"Hidden from view for over a century, the self-portrait is 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.


The discovery is historic but it makes sense given the fact that Van Gogh was known for using both sides of a canvas to save money. The artist only sold one painting in his lifetime and became famous after his death in 1890 at the age of 37. He would go on to become one of the most influential painters in Western art history.

Lesley Stevenson, the gallery’s senior conservator, says that she felt “shock” to “find the artist looking at us,” she told the BBC. "When we saw the X-ray for the first time, of course we were hugely excited."

The Edinburgh gallery describes the painting as "a bearded sitter in a brimmed hat with a neckerchief loosely tied at the throat. He fixes the viewer with an intense stare, the right side of his face in shadow and his left ear clearly visible."

Even though it will take countless hours of delicate restoration for the new painting to be separated from "Head of a Peasant Woman," the museum has a good idea of what it looks like thanks to the X-ray image.

Van Gogh famously cut off his ear in 1888, two years before his death, and in what is presumed to be a self-portrait, the artist’s ear is still attached to his head. He lopped off the lower part of his ear during a bout of depression while staying in Arles, France. He later documented the experience in a painting titled, “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear.”

“Later in date than the Head of a Peasant Woman, the hidden painting is likely to have been made during a key moment in Van Gogh’s career, when he was exposed to the work of the French impressionists after moving to Paris,” the gallery wrote on its blog.

Museum visitors will be able to see an X-ray of the image in a lightbox at a new exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery entitled, “A Taste for Impressionism: Modern French Art from Millet to Matisse.”

"Moments like this are incredibly rare," Frances Fowle, a senior curator at the National Galleries of Scotland, said according to ABC News. "We have discovered an unknown work by Vincent Van Gogh, one of the most important and popular artists in the world."

This story first appeared on the author's Medium and is reprinted here with permission.

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