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Van Gogh under Van Gogh

X-ray of canvas reveals a painting hidden by later one

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The 1889 drawing "Wild Vegetation," done in brown reed pen by Vincent Van Gogh, is on display at the Van Gogh Museum.

The 1889 drawing “Wild Vegetation,” done in brown reed pen by Vincent Van Gogh, is on display at the Van Gogh Museum.

Associated Press

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) — Art historians had known of the Van Gogh drawing, stored at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. But they had always wondered whether it was a copy of a completed painting.

Now, at last, the painting itself has been discovered — concealed under another painting in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Van Gogh Museum said Friday.

The work, "Wild Vegetation," painted in June 1889, was discovered in an X-ray of "The Ravine," which Van Gogh painted on the same canvas four months later, the museum said.

"One of our specialists looked at the X-ray and recognized it as resembling a drawing from the museum," said Natalie Bos, a spokeswoman for the Van Gogh Museum.

The museum called the discovery important for researchers and said it would display the drawing, done in brown reed pen, in Amsterdam starting next week as part of an exhibition of Van Gogh's drawings running until Oct. 7.

Vincent Van Gogh often sent drawings of his painted works to his brother Theo, a Paris art dealer. The artist, who sold few paintings during his lifetime, relied on Theo to send him supplies, and painted new compositions over his old work if the materials arrived late and he lacked the money to buy his own.

At the time "Wild Vegetation" was painted, Van Gogh was confined at the Saint-Remy asylum in southern France. Armed with fresh materials from Theo, he was allowed off the hospital grounds and painted the surrounding landscape, including his famous series "Wheatfields."

The painting was done in a wide range of colors. But the two-toned swirls of the drawing, which has been in the Amsterdam collection, though not on display, disclose little of the vibrancy of Van Gogh's painted works.

Van Gogh, whose career spanned just 10 years, fatally shot himself in 1890.

Meta Chavannes, a conservator at the Boston museum, said she revealed "Wild Vegetation" by "pure chance," while compiling information for some visiting scholars.

Chavannes said she became a "little bit obsessed" with the painting and took the X-ray with her when she went home to Holland on vacation. There, she showed it to Louis van Tilborgh, a Van Gogh Museum curator.

A report on the discovery by van Tilborgh and Chavannes is being published this week in The Burlington Magazine, a leading art journal.

Coincidentally, the discovery came at the same time that a team from the Van Gogh Museum concluded that a painting in Australia's National Gallery attributed to the Dutch master for more than 70 years was not a true Van Gogh. Experts concluded that strong stylistic differences indicated it probably was painted by a contemporary.

The painting, "Head of a Man," was brought to Australia in 1939 as part of an art exhibit owned by Keith Murdoch, father of media mogul Rupert Murdoch.