Hidden Van Gogh self-portrait discovered behind earlier painting Automatic translate
X-rays show the artist’s face wearing a hat and cravat on canvas in the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland.
On Friday afternoon, they found him gazing from the back of a canvas wearing a wide-brimmed hat and loose cravat: a previously undiscovered self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh, one of the most popular and influential figures in Western art history, hidden in plain sight in the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland over half a century.
“It was absolutely breathtaking,” says Leslie Stevenson, senior curator of paintings at the National Galleries of Scotland, of the moment a routine X-ray of another van Gogh painting, The Head of a Peasant Woman , uncovered this unusual find on the back of a canvas, hidden for more than 100 years under layers of glue and cardboard.
“We didn’t expect much,” Stevenson says of a “modest little painting” donated in 1960 by Edinburgh lawyer Alexander Maitland. It was X-rayed as part of cataloging and preparation for a summer exhibition of French Impressionism at the Royal Scottish Academy - although Van Gogh was Dutch, he spent most of his creative career in France.
The X-ray plates were processed in an old-fashioned darkroom, and when Stevenson looked at the pictures, she realized that before her was the face of Van Gogh himself.
"Blimey! We don’t see the peasant woman, but what we have is white lead, a much heavier pigment he used for his face, which shows up after the x-ray passes through the cardboard."
Further research shows that this painting is one of a series of experimental self-portraits - there are five such works exhibited at the Van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands - on the reverse side of earlier canvases painted during his residence in Nuenen, in the south of the country, from December 1883 to November 1885. There he made a number of peasant studies in preparation for his early masterpiece The Potato Eaters, 1885.
Francis Fowl, senior curator of French art, said the discovery, which is considered paramount for any UK institution, expanded our understanding of a critical period in Van Gogh’s creative development when he first encountered the French Impressionists after moving to Paris in 1886, where he was supported by his brother Theo and where he met avant-garde artists such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Émile Bernard.
Inspired by Georges Seurat and Paul Gauguin, he adopted a more colorful and expressive style of painting, experimenting for the first time with the broken brush, using himself as a model and reusing canvases to save money.
Fowl said: “This period, when he began to create self-portraits, was pivotal in the development of his mature style, when he began to experiment with his own characteristic brushstroke. Van Gogh was a very independent thinker and he developed his radical new style so quickly.”
The conservators will now begin the process of revealing the self-portrait, which lies in an indeterminate state under layers of glue and cardboard, while preserving the original painting. “It’s like stepping into the unknown,” Stevenson says. “The challenge will be to remove the adhesive from the oil paint layers using the difference in solubility between the animal based adhesive and the oil paint.”
In a typical year, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam receives up to 300 inquiries from people who think they have found a missing Van Gogh, but the originals are rare. In 2013, the landscape "Sunset at Montmajour", painted two years before his death in 1890 and forgotten in a Norwegian attic, was exhibited in Amsterdam, and last year a pencil sketch of an exhausted worker "Exhausted" was exhibited, which had lain for more than a century in a private collection one Dutch family.
“Opening a new job is something extraordinary,” Stevenson says. “Anything that gives us more information about the artist is a huge bonus, and just shows the advantage of technology analysis that we can still learn new things.”
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