AMSTERDAM — There were 35 known self-portraits of Vincent van Gogh in the world. That seems to have changed this week.
“To this number we can now add another image,” said Louis van Tilborgh, senior curator at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, on Thursday.
The National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh, with support from the Van Gogh Museum, has announced that it has discovered what appears to be a new self-portrait by Van Gogh, hidden behind another work by the Dutch artist and covered in cardboard. .
This painting from 1885,Peasant head“was part of a series of portraits that van Gogh painted in Nuenen, the Netherlands, which were probably studies for his famous work,”the potato eaters.” The National Galleries x-rayed the work in preparation for an upcoming exhibition and noticed that there was another image on the back.
“It’s extremely exciting,” said Frances Fowle, senior curator of French art at the National Galleries. “It’s like getting a new paint for the collection.”
The upcoming exhibition “The taste of impressionism: French modern art from Millet to Matisseopens July 30 and ends November 13. Van Gogh was Dutch, but he developed his style in Paris and southern France, and is considered by art historians to be part of the French Post-Impressionist movement.
Fowle said no one had actually seen the self-portrait, as it cannot be seen with the naked eye.
But Lesley Stevenson, an art conservator at the National Galleries, was the first to discover the self-portrait hidden by x-rays, and she texted Fowle with a photo. Fowle was in line at the fishmonger when she received the message, she said, and was “amazed when she saw this kind of ghostly face appear”.
“We won’t be removing the cardboard right away because it’s a complicated process,” she added. “You have these layers of glue, so you have to remove them very carefully.”
The museum has had the “Peasant’s Head” since 1960, when it was donated by Alexander Maitland, an Edinburgh lawyer, as part of a collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works which also included pieces by Paul Gauguin and Edgar Degas. The museum already has three van Gogh paintings, and Fowle said he saw the self-portrait as a fourth.
A large majority of van Gogh’s self-portraits were painted during his stay in Paris, especially from 1886 to 1888. He was short of money, so he reused canvases he had used for other works in the Netherlands . Because he also couldn’t afford to hire models, he frequently turned the mirror upside down on his own face.
The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has five double-sided paintings which are works by Nuenen on one side and self-portraits on the other. So this painting fits perfectly into this series, said van Tilborgh. “We know of other cases of portraits in our museum that were hidden under cardboard on the other side,” he said.
Sjraar van Heugten, an independent expert on van Gogh, said that based on documents about the new find that the museum had posted online, he was convinced the hidden image was a genuine self-portrait of the artist.
He added that it was “highly unlikely that someone would get a real Van Gogh painting in their hands and paint a fake painting on the back. There’s a lot of evidence that it’s the real thing.
However, was it perhaps too early to affirm the discovery of a new painting by Van Gogh, which until now has been considered only as an x-ray?
“Scientifically speaking, we can’t know it’s a self-portrait because obviously we haven’t seen it yet,” said Rachel Esner, associate professor of art history at the University of ‘Amsterdam, specializing in 19th century art.
“But the chances of it being him are great,” she added. “It might be a little premature, but looking at it objectively, with all the science behind it, it just seems completely legit to me.”
Fowle said the National Galleries of Scotland would wait to remove the cardboard until ‘Head of a Peasant Woman’ is on display in the museum’s exhibition, adding that she plans to reveal the self-portrait to the public in 2023.
“I’d like to rip it off the back now,” she said. “But we have to be very, very careful.”