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Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait Found Hidden Behind His Painting “Head of a Peasant Woman”

Though there were only 35 known self-portraits of Vincent Van Gogh, one of the most esteemed artists of all time, another self-portrait was discovered this week behind his painting “Head of a Peasant Woman” at the National Galleries of Scotland.

This 1885 painting was a part of a series of portraits that Van Gogh painted in the Netherlands. “Head of a Peasant Woman” was set to be added to the National Galleries’ upcoming exhibition, “A Taste for Impressionism: Modern French Art from Millet to Matisse,” opening July 30 and running through November 13. 

The National Galleries x-rayed the piece in preparation for the upcoming exhibition to surprisingly find a self-portrait of Van Gogh hidden on the back of “Head of a Peasant Woman.”

“It’s tremendously exciting,” said Frances Fowle, senior curator of French art at the National Galleries. “It’s like getting a new painting for the collection.”

Fowle explained that no one has actually seen the physical self-portrait yet because it is hidden behind a piece of cardboard. 

“We won’t take the cardboard off right away because it’s a complicated process,” Fowle continued. “You’ve got these layers of glue, so you have to remove that very carefully.”

The museum has owned the “Head of a Peasant Woman” since 1960 and owns three other Van Gogh paintings—four now including the self-portrait.

Double-sided paintings are common for Van Goghs works. Most of his self-portraits were painted during his stay in Paris from 1886 to 1888. Since he was often short on money, he reused canvases that he had used for other works. 

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam owns five double-siding pieces with his Netherland paintings on one side and self-portraits on the other, so this newly discovered self-portrait fits right into the collection. 

An independent expert on Van Gogh, Sjraar van Heugten said that he felt confident that the hidden picture was in fact a real self-portrait by the artist. 

Heugten continued saying, “It’s very unlikely that someone would get a real van Gogh painting in his hands and paint a fake painting on the back. There’s a lot of evidence that this is the real thing.”

Fowle said that the National Galleries of Scotland would wait until after “Head of a Peasant Woman” was displayed in the museum’s show to restore the discovered self-portrait and remove the cardboard piece blocking the image, adding she expected to reveal the self-portrait to the public in 2023.

“I’d like to rip it off the back now,” she said of this amazing discovery. “But we have to be very, very careful.”

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