AMSTERDAM – There were 35 well-known portraits of Vincent Van Gogh in the world. This seems to have changed this week.
“To that number, we can now add another picture,” Louis van Tilburg, chief curator at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, said Thursday.
The National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh, with support from the Van Gogh Museum, have announced that they have discovered what appears to be a new self-portrait of Van Gogh, hidden on the back of another work by the Dutch artist and covered in cardboard. .
“It’s very exciting,” said Frances Faul, curator of French art at the National Galleries. “It’s like getting a new board for the group.”
next exhibition”A Taste of Impressionism: French Modern Art from Millet to Matisse,’ opens July 30 and runs through November 13. Van Gogh was Dutch, but developed his style in Paris and southern France, and art historians consider him to be part of the French Post-Impressionist movement.
No one has actually seen the self-portrait, Fowle said, because it can’t be seen with the naked eye.
But Leslie Stephenson, an art restorer at the National Gallery, was the first to discover the hidden self-portrait via X-rays, and Fowle sent a text message with the image. Fowle was queuing at the fishmonger when she received the letter, she said, “and she was amazed when she saw this kind of ghostly face appear.”
“We will not remove the cardboard immediately because it is a complex process,” she added. “You have these layers of glue, so you have to remove them very carefully.”
The museum has owned the “Head of a Peasant Woman” since 1960, when it was donated by Alexander Maitland, the Edinburgh barrister, as part of a collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works that also included pieces by Paul Gauguin and Edgar Degas. The museum already owns three Van Gogh paintings, and Faul said she saw the self-portrait as a fourth.
The vast 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 the paintings he had used for other works in Holland. Because he was also not able to hire models, he would often turn the mirror over on his face.
The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has five double-sided paintings which are Nuenen’s works on one side, and self-portraits on the other. So this painting fits right in with that series, Van Tilburg said. “We know of other cases of photographs in our museum that were hidden under cardboard on the other side,” he said.
Sjraar van Heugten, Van Gogh’s independent expert, said that based on material about the new discovery the museum had posted online, he felt confident that the hidden portrait was a true self-portrait of the artist.
He added, “It is highly unlikely that someone would have a real Van Gogh painting in their hands and paint a fake painting on their back. There is a lot of evidence that this is the real thing.”
However, was it too early to confirm the discovery of a new painting by Van Gogh, which so far has only been seen as an X-ray?
“Scientifically speaking, we can’t know it’s a self-portrait because we obviously haven’t seen it yet,” said Rachel Esner, associate professor of art history at the University of Amsterdam who specializes in 19th century art.
“But his chances are great,” she added. “Maybe it’s a bit premature, but looking at it objectively, with all the science behind it, seems to me perfectly legitimate.”
Fowle said Scotland’s National Galleries will wait to remove the cardboard until after the “head of a peasant woman” is on display at the museum, adding that she expects 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 careful.”