Art curators use X-ray images to reveal many things about a painting, including “details about a painting’s materials, application and damages to the canvas or paint layers,” according to the Art Institute of Chicago. Thursday at the National Galleries of Scotland, X-ray images revealed something more: A self-portrait painted on the back of Van Gogh’s “Head of a Peasant Woman.”
The image shows a man with a brimmed hat sitting at an angle, with a beard and a clearly visible left ear. Experts said the subject was instantly recognizable as the artist himself, according The Associated Press.
The Van Gogh Gallery calls him one of the “most influential artists having helped lay the foundations of modern art” even though the Dutch painter lived a life without notoriety.
According to the Gallery, “During his brief career, he did not experience much success, he sold only one painting, lived in poverty, malnourished and overworked. The money he had was supplied by his brother, Theo, and was used primarily for art supplies, coffee and cigarettes.”
Though his career lasted a little over a decade, he produced “almost 2,000 paintings and drawings and wrote more than 800 letters,” per the National Gallery of Art. Lacking money, he often painted on both sides of the canvas or painted over works according to NPR.
“Head of a Peasant Woman” was painted in the spring of 1885, and is possibly depicting Gordina de Groot, also known as Sien, who “was a model for Van Gogh’s early masterpiece “The Potato Eaters” of 1885,” according to a statement by the National Galleries Scotland.
Experts at the museum estimate that a decision to glue the canvas to cardboard before framing was made around 1905 when lent to an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
Professor Frances Fowle, senior curator of French art at the National Galleries of Scotland, said, “Moments like this are incredibly rare.” Though rare, there have been several self-portraits, drawings and paintings on the back of canvases held in museums around the world.