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surprise!

X-ray of painting reveals secret Van Gogh self-portrait

While preparing for an upcoming exhibition of impressionist art, conservators with the National Galleries of Scotland made a surprise discovery: what appears to be a self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh, behind the back of his 1885 painting "Head of a Peasant Woman."

In an interview released Thursday by the National Galleries of Scotland, senior paintings conservator Lesley Stevenson said paintings are routinely X-rayed, in order to gather "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."

The self-portrait was on the back of "Head of a Peasant Woman," under several lawyers of glue and cardboard. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has studied the X-ray image and said it is "almost certainly" a Van Gogh self-portrait, and conservators are hoping to safely uncover the painting to confirm its authenticity.

Due to financial constraints, Van Gogh regularly reused canvases, and several other self-portraits have been discovered on the backs of his paintings, particularly those done between 1883 and 1885, The Washington Post says. The National Galleries of Scotland obtained "Head of a Peasant Woman" more than 60 years ago, and say it was a study for the Van Gogh masterpiece "The Potato Eaters."

This was a stunning discovery, Stevenson said, but it was "extra special" because self-portraits "have a special quality — they're very enigmatic. They're giving us an insight into how [the artist is] thinking of themselves."