Pair Of Secret VAN GOGH Paintings Revealed By High-Energy Radiation. Science Swag.

When I’m a famous writer (I know, it’s never going to happen) I’m going to embed a discarded novel in the buried digi-bytes of a rudimentary and trite story. I will also discard this novel on a USB drive in a sewer somewhere. If this story about Van Gogh teaches me anything, it is that in a hundred years or so both will be discovered to the acclaim of all.

New Scientist:

High-energy radiation and some clever detective work have revealed that a supposedly anonymous painting was actually crafted by Vincent van Gogh. The painting, Still Life with Meadow Flowers and Roses (below), was painted over a painting of two half-naked wrestlers: Van Gogh’s homework as an art student in Antwerp, Belgium.

Since 1974, the painting has lived at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, the Netherlands, which houses more than half of the known Van Gogh paintings. But the museum was never sure how to categorise it. The painting wasn’t like Van Gogh’s other floral still lifes: the canvas was much bigger than usual, and the flowers in the foreground were gaudier than normal for the artist. Since 2003, the painting had been listed as anonymous.

A key clue emerged in 1998, when X-ray examinations uncovered two human figures grappling with each other underneath the layers of flowers. Now, a new examination using high-energy ultraviolet and X-ray radiation from DESY, the German electron synchrotron lab in Hamburg, shows beyond a doubt that both layers on the canvas were Van Gogh’s.

The back story emerged in some of Van Gogh’s letters to his brother, Theo. Van Gogh went to Antwerp in November 1885 to enrol in the art academy there and sharpen his technical skills. The instructor encouraged the 32-year-old painter to buy a large canvas – typical of the academy at the time, according to historians – and new brushes and paints.

Van Gogh, strapped for cash, wrote to Theo to ask for money. He wrote again a few weeks later to assure his brother the money had gone to good use: “This week I painted a large thing with two nude torsos – two wrestlers.” He also said he was delighted with the result.

But he must not have been too delighted, because a few months later, he brought the canvas to Theo’s place in Paris, France, and painted Still Life with Meadow Flowers and Roses (above) directly on top of the wrestlers, without scraping away the original paint or covering it with an intermediate layer first.

The fact that the wrestlers were a homework assignment explains the floral painting’s oddities: the canvas was unusually large because that was the school’s standard, and the flowers in the foreground were so ostentatious because they had to cover an entire half-naked boy.

The new synchrotron examination reveals more clinching details. The wrestlers were wearing pants, which was characteristic of the academy at Antwerp (other academies had students do completely nude figure studies). The radiation also showed that the pigments corresponded with Van Gogh’s at the time, and revealed his distinctive brush strokes.

Radical stuff. There’s something so romantic about all these dead ass painters and their hidden works. As though we can uncover more of them by unearthing this trite mementos that even they didn’t want the world to see.