Frances Fowle, the senior curator at the National Galleries of Scotland, got what was likely to be the most exciting text message of her career while waiting in line at a fish shop on a Friday afternoon. It was an image from an X-ray. Not of broken bones — but of a previously unknown self-portrait by Vincent Van Gogh.
“Look what I’ve discovered,” wrote her colleague Lesley Stevenson.
Stevenson, a conservator at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, found the painting when she X-rayed another piece by Van Gogh, “Head of a Peasant Woman,” ahead of an exhibition — a routine step that normally does not reveal such a major find.
Hidden under layers of glue and cardboard was another painting on its reverse — a portrait of a man in a hat with a scarf tied around his throat.
“I saw it then and there: It was a self-portrait by Van Gogh, on the back of our painting,” Fowle said.
The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has examined the X-ray of the newly uncovered painting, which is “almost certainly” a Van Gogh self-portrait, the National Galleries of Scotland said in a news release. Still, experts are searching for ways to uncover it without damaging the painting under whose canvas it sits so they can confirm its authenticity.