The curator of the gallery knew about the discovery of Van Gogh’s portrait in the queue of the fish shop

A curator at the National Gallery of Scotland learned that a previously unknown self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh had been found on the back of another while she was waiting outside a fish shop.

rofessor Frances Fowle, senior curator of French art at the museum, said one of her colleagues sent her a message to share news of the extraordinary find, believed to be a first. of a research institute in the United Kingdom.

The X-ray-detected portrait, on the back of Van Gogh’s The Farmer Woman (1885), is covered with layers of glue and cardboard believed to have been applied before an exhibition. exhibition in the early 20th century.

Professor Fowle told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Actually one of my colleagues, one of the conservators, made the discovery.

“I think she was really surprised and she actually sent me a picture of it in a text message, so I got it on my phone while I was queuing outside. fish shop.”

When asked if she shared her excitement with anyone else in the line, she giggled and said, “No, I keep it to myself.”

Dutch artist Van Gogh is known for repurposing paintings to save money, by turning them upside down and working on the reverse side.


Back view of the painting Head Of A Peasant Woman (Neil Hannah / National Galleries of Scotland / PA)

Professor Fowle added: “He relied on his brother for painting materials, and Theo Van Gogh was out of town, so he just started flipping through the paintings.”

The portrait shows the bearded artist in a brimmed hat with a scarf tied loosely around his throat. His left ear, which he famously removed in 1888, is clearly visible.

This is believed to be his original work and his first discovery of the self-portrait for which he later became known.

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Visitors to the upcoming exhibition A Taste For Impressionism at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh will be able to view the sketch as an X-ray image through a specially crafted lightbox.


X-ray image of Vincent Van Gogh’s hidden self-portrait (Neil Hannah / National Galleries of Scotland / PA)

The National Gallery of Scotland is hoping to remove the self-portrait after the exhibition ends in November.

While it is possible to separate the paintings, the process of removing the glue and cardboard will require delicate conservation work. Research is ongoing to see how that can be done without harming the Head Of A Peasant Woman.

Professor Fowle told the Today programme: “We have been in close consultation with the Van Gogh Museum, which has three examples in their collection where the cardboard has been removed.”

She added: “Moments like these are extremely rare.


Senior curator Frances Fowle said such discoveries are ‘extremely rare’ (Neil Hannah/National Galleries of Scotland/PA)

“We have discovered an anonymous work by Vincent Van Gogh, one of the most important and famous artists in the world.

“What an incredible gift to Scotland, and one that will forever remain in the care of the National Gallery. We are excited to share this thrilling discovery in the large summer exhibition A Taste For Impressionism, where the X-ray image of the self-portrait will be displayed for all to see. “

– The exhibition A Taste For Impressionism at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh runs from 30 July to 13 November. The curator of the gallery knew about the discovery of Van Gogh’s portrait in the queue of the fish shop

Fry Electronics Team

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