Professor Frances Fowle, Personal Chair of 19th-Century Art at ECA and Senior Curator of French Art at the National Galleries of Scotland, says the discovery is “thrilling”.

The National Galleries of Scotland has discovered what is almost certainly a previously unknown self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh.

Believed to be a first for a UK institution, the mysterious image was revealed by an x-ray taken when art conservators examined Van Gogh’s Head of a Peasant Woman of 1885 ahead of the forthcoming exhibition A Taste for Impressionism (30 July–13 November) at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh.

Professor Frances Fowle, who holds a joint post with the University of Edinburgh and the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS), says: “Moments like this are incredibly rare. We have discovered an unknown work by Vincent van Gogh, one of the most important and popular artists in the world. What an incredible gift for Scotland, and one that will forever be in the care of the National Galleries. We are very excited to share this thrilling discovery in our big summer exhibition A Taste for Impressionism, where the x-ray image of the self-portrait will be on view for all to see.”

Professor Fowle teaches on ECA’s undergraduate and postgraduate History of Art programmes while also holding the post of Senior Curator of French Art at NGS.

Visitors will be able to see the amazing x-ray image for the first time through a specially crafted lightbox at the centre of the display.

Unknown Van Gogh self-portrait detected under cardboard and glue
National Galleries of Scotland

"Moments like this are incredibly rare. We have discovered an unknown work by Vincent Van Gogh, one of the most important and popular artists in the world."

Professor Frances Fowle, Personal Chair of 19th-Century Art

Hidden from view for over a century, the self-portrait is on the back of the canvas with Head of a Peasant Woman and is covered by layers of glue and cardboard.

NGS experts believe these materials were applied ahead of an exhibition in the early twentieth century. Van Gogh often re-used canvases to save money. However, instead of painting over earlier works, he would turn the canvas around and work on the reverse.

The Head of a Peasant Woman, Vincent Van Gogh, 1885
Image courtesy of National Galleries of Scotland
The Head of a Peasant Woman, Vincent Van Gogh, 1885
X-ray image of Vincent Van Gogh self-portrait, National Galleries of Scotland
Image courtesy of National Galleries of Scotland
X-ray image of Vincent Van Gogh self-portrait

It may be possible to uncover the hidden self-portrait, but the process of removing the glue and cardboard will require delicate conservation work. Research is ongoing as to how that can be done without harming Head of a Peasant Woman.

The discovery was made as a result of Professor Fowle's research for the forthcoming exhibition and for a forthcoming major critical catalogue, French Paintings 1500-1900 in the National Galleries of Scotland, co-authored with Professor Michael Clarke, honorary Professor in History of Art at ECA. 

She has curated numerous international exhibitions and her main area of specialism is French and Scottish nineteenth-century art, with an emphasis on collecting, the art market, national identity, cultural revival and artistic networks.




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