Hidden Van Gogh self-portrait revealed

Virgin Radio

14 Jul 2022, 09:18

Pic: Galleries Scotland

A secret self-portrait of Van Gogh has been uncovered thanks to x-ray machines.

The artist can be seen wearing a wide-brimmed hat and loose neckerchief, hidden underneath layers of paint.

The picture had been hanging in the National Galleries of Scotland for more than half a century, underneath the painting of Head Of A Peasant Woman.

Lesley Stevenson is the senior paintings conservator at the National Galleries and said of the discovery: "It was absolutely thrilling."

“We weren’t expecting much," Stevenson said, about examining the painting.

It was gifted in 1960 by an Edinburgh lawyer, Alexander Maitland.

After processing the X-ray plates, Stevenson realised they had something special: “Lo and behold! We don’t see much of the peasant woman, but what we have is the lead white, the much heavier pigment he used for his face, showing up after the X-ray goes through the cardboard.”

It seems that the piece is one of a series of experimental self-portraits.

Five other similar works are on display at the Van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands.

Frances Fowle is the senior curator for French art: “This period when he began producing self-portraits was key in the development of his mature style, when he began experimenting with his own distinctive brush stroke. Van Gogh was a very independent thinker and he developed his radical new style so quickly.”

Conservators will begin the process of revealing the self-portrait.

The condition is unknown, hidden beneath layers of adhesive and cardboard.

They will also preserve the original painting.

“It’s like stepping into the unknown,” Stevenson said. “The challenge will be removing the adhesive from the oil paint layers, exploiting the difference in solubility of animal-based glue and oil-based paint.”

“The discovery of a new work is extraordinary,” says Stevenson. “Anything that gives us more information about the artist is a huge bonus, and just shows the benefit of technological analysis, that we can still find out new things.”