The team led by the Delft University of Technology said on Wednesday it had used a synchrotron light source "DORIS" - described as "infrared reflectography" technology - to reveal the image of a woman beneath van Gogh's cheery lawn painting "Grasgrond," or "Patch of Grass."
At least one-third of the Dutch post-Impressionist artist's paintings are thought to have earlier works underneath, according to the DESY statement. Van Gogh painted "Grasgrond" in 1887 while in Paris. It now belongs to the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo in the Netherlands.
Historians assume that Van Gogh painted the woman's head in 1884-85 in Nuenen in the south of the Netherlands, some 2.5 years before he covered it with "Patch of Grass," according to another statement posted on the Kröller-Müller Museum website. It goes on to say that in Nuenen he painted about 50 studies of faces that ultimately resulted in his famous painting "The Potato Eaters."
Researchers had previously detected the contours of a portrait behind the painting. The team spent two days scanning a 17.5 by 17.5 centimetre section of the work with a synchrotron x-ray beam to digitally reconstruct the hidden image based on the elements in the color pigments.
The team said it is ready to use the technology to help art historians to better understand the development of important artists like Van Gogh.
DESY is one of the top centres for the investigation of the structure of matter. It develops, runs and uses accelerators and detectors for photon science and particle physics.