A previously unknown self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh – complete with his ears cut off – has been discovered, experts say.
The artwork shows a bearded custodian in a brimmed hat with a scarf tied loosely at the throat.
His left ear, which he famously removed in 1888, is clearly visible.
Thought to have been hidden from view for over a century, the X-rayed sketch was unearthed after another Van Gogh work – Head of a Peasant Woman (1885) – and it was found on the back of the picture. , hidden by layers of cardboard.
Van Gogh is famous for reusing canvas to save money by spinning and working on the opposite side.
The National Gallery of Scotland’s extraordinary find is believed to be the first for an institution in the United Kingdom.
It is thought to be from his early work and his first discovery of self-portraits, for which he later became known.
Layers of cardboard and glue are said to have been applied before an exhibition in the early 20th century.
Visitors to the upcoming exhibition A Taste for Impressionism at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, will be able to view the sketch as an X-ray image through a specially crafted lightbox.
While it is possible to separate the two pieces, the process of removing the glue and cardboard will require delicate conservation work. Research is underway to see how that can be done without harming the Chief of a Woman Farmer.
The find was described as “thrilling” by Professor Frances Fowle, senior curator of French art at the National Gallery of Scotland.
She was queuing outside a fish shop when she received a text from a coworker giving her unusual news.
She said: “Moments like these are extremely rare.
“We have discovered an unknown work by Vincent van Gogh, one of the most important and famous artists in the world.
“What an incredible gift to Scotland, and one that will forever remain in the care of the National Gallery.”
“This is an important discovery because it adds to what we already know about Van Gogh’s life,” said Lesley Stevenson, senior art conservator at the National Gallery.
“There’s a lot to think about regarding next steps, but for us it’s another small goal to bring us a little closer to an incredible artist.
“Knowing that it’s there in a painting, that it’s in the National Gallery of Scotland in a Scottish people’s collection, is incredibly important and meaningful.”
The exhibition, A Taste for Impressionism, begins on July 30 and runs until November 13.