A PAINTING that is “most certainly” a previously unknown self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh has been discovered by the National Galleries of Scotland.

The extraordinary find is believed to be a first for a UK institution and was discovered by an x-ray taken of Van Gogh’s Head of a Peasant Woman (1885) ahead of the forthcoming exhibition A Taste for Impressionism at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh.

Hidden from view for over a century, the portrait was found on the back of the canvas with Head of a Peasant Woman.

Van Gogh was known for reusing canvas to save money by turning it round and working on the opposite side.

The portrait shows a bearded sitter in a brimmed hat with a neckerchief loosely tied at the throat. His left ear, which he famously cut off in 1888, is clearly visible.

It is thought to be from his early work and his first exploration of self-portraits, which he later became known for.

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Viewers will be able to see the sketch as an x-ray image through a specially crafted lightbox.

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

The discovery has been described as “thrilling” by Professor Frances Fowle, senior curator of French art at the National Galleries of Scotland. She said: “Moments like this are incredibly rare.

The National: The newly discovered Van Gogh self portraitThe newly discovered Van Gogh self portrait

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

“What an incredible gift for Scotland, and one that will forever be in the care of the National Galleries. We are very excited to share this thrilling discovery in our big summer exhibition A Taste for Impressionism, where the x-ray image of the self-portrait will be on view for all to see.”