Ownership of Van Gogh's Head of a Peasant Woman comes with a bonus: An X-ray has shown a self-portrait of the artist is on the reverse side of the 1885 canvas. "Such a major discovery happens once, twice in a conservator's lifetime," said Lesley Stevenson, senior paintings conservator of the National Galleries of Scotland. The newly discovered painting "is covered by layers of glue and cardboard," a museum statement said Thursday, NPR reports. Experts suspect it was covered early in the 20th century, before Head of a Peasant Woman was put on display.
The hidden work was discovered during preparation for an exhibit due to open this month in Edinburgh, per CBS News. "Van Gogh often re-used canvases to save money," a museum statement said. "However, instead of painting over earlier works, he would turn the canvas around and work on the reverse." The X-ray can be seen in the exhibit, which runs from July 30 to Nov. 13, by using a special lightbox; it's not known yet whether it will be possible to uncover the actual painting.
The museum describes the subject as "a bearded sitter in a brimmed hat with a neckerchief loosely tied at the throat. He fixes the viewer with an intense stare, the right side of his face in shadow and his left ear clearly visible." Hidden Van Goghs have been discovered before. Still, museum officials were pleased. "We have discovered an unknown work by Vincent van Gogh, one of the most important and popular artists in the world," another curator said. (Read more Vincent Van Gogh stories.)