What is underneath?

View from Theo's apartment

Van Gogh had used this canvas once before. The X-ray photograph shows that under the painting is the portrait of a man, possibly a self-portrait. Because he rubbed off most of this portrait and then covered it with a white ground, we can not see it clearly. The paint sample shows that he used much more paint for the portrait than for the painting that we see.

Micrograph of the cross-section of a paint sample, magnified 20 times.

Detail, showing paint layers and pigment particles.

Explanation of the different layers

This reconstruction shows how the painting is built up in layers, starting with the bare canvas and ending with the painting of a city landscape, the uppermost image.

1 finely woven linen canvas with layer of glue

2 light ground

3 portrait of a man, possibly a self-portrait

4 portrait of a man (scraped off)

5 dark protective layer

6 new light ground

7 underdrawing in graphite pencil, with lines retraced from the perspective frame

8 stripes and stipples of blue paint

9 coloured stipples of paint

10 scratches in the layer of paint and additional stipples of colour

Reconstruction by Kristel Smits, funded by the Australian Council for the Arts