A secret self-portrait of the legendary artist Vincent Van Gogh was accidentally discovered by a museum worker in Scotland.
Lesley Stevenson, a conservator at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, first noticed the shocking discovery after X-raying Van Gogh's "Head of a Peasant Woman" when she found another painting on the back of the painting hidden under layers of glue and cardboard.
Stevenson immediately contacted Frances Fowle, the senior curator at the National Galleries of Scotland, when she realised the magnitude of her discovery.
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"I saw it then and there: It was a self-portrait by Van Gogh, on the back of our painting," Fowle said.
After going under further examination by the The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, National Galleries of Scotland said in a statement that the X-ray was "almost certainly" a Van Gogh self-portrait.
The fact that the Dutch artist used to reuse canvasses because of a lack of money as well as further self-portraits being discovered on the back of his paintings suggests that was the case here.
The other self-portraits on the back of Van Gogh's paintings from the Nuenen period – between 1883 and 1885, when Van Gogh lived in the southern Dutch town – now hang in museums in the United States and the Netherlands.
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Conservators were initially preparing for the exhibition on impressionist art at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh and Stevenson said the X-ray was a routine procedure with no expectations of any surprises.
"It gives us information about how the composition evolved, whether or not there were any changes. And lo and behold, we were quite surprised to discover a completely different painting in the X-ray image," Stevenson said.
"Knowing that [the newly uncovered self-portrait is] there – in a painting that's in the National Galleries of Scotland, in a collection that belongs to the people of Scotland – is incredibly important and significant."
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The potential Van Gogh self-portrait could make it three works of art by the Dutchman owned by the National Galleries of Scotland and according to Stevenson, this find was "extra special".
She said: "Those images of the artist by the artist have a special quality – they're very enigmatic. They're giving us an insight into how [the artist is] thinking of themselves."
Stevenson said this sort of discovery occurs "happens once, twice in a conservator's lifetime" and the announcement of the stunning find has sent art owners around the country on a quest to find a secret valuable painting on their back of their art.
Unfortunately, according to The Guardian, the Van Gogh Museum gets up to "300 inquiries from people believing they own a lost Van Gogh" painting with them rarely proving to be the real deal.
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