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Owlscrying

X-ray shows hidden portrait by Van Gogh

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Owlscrying

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The painting in its original glory

A Van Gogh portrait that was painted over by the artist has been revealed in extraordinary detail by a new X-ray technique.

The woman's face emerged from the centre of the 1887 work Patch of Grass, owned by the Kroller-Muller Museum in the Netherlands.

Van Gogh is known to have painted over many of his earlier works.

The picture was subjected to a technique known as X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, which allows experts to map the chemicals on it.

They wrote in the journal Analytical Chemistry: 'These hidden paintings offer a unique and intimate insight into the genesis of his works.'

Previous research had discovered the vague outline of a head behind the Patch of Grass painting.

Over a period of two days, scientists scanned the picture with a pencil-thin beam of very energetic X-rays generated by a synchrotron, a machine that accelerates sub-atomic particles.

The powerful bombardment caused atoms in the picture's layers of paint to release 'fluorescent' X-rays of their own which could be used to map the chemicals they originated from.

In this way the scientists, led by Dr Joris Dik, from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, and Professor Koen Janssens from the University of Antwerp in Belgium, were able to reconstruct the hidden portrait in unparalleled detail.

Elements from specific paint pigments allowed a 'colour photo' of the concealed work to be produced.

The portrait may have been part of an extensive series of heads painted by van Gogh while staying in the Dutch village of Nuenen, said the researchers.

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