High-energy radiation reveals a pair of secret Vincent Van Gogh paintings

This portrait of two half-naked wrestlers was painted by Vincent Van Gogh when he was an art student in Antwerp. It's been hiding in plain sight for over 125 years, and its discovery also confirmed another disputed Van Gogh painting.

These two wrestlers were painted around 1885, when Van Gogh was a 32-year-old art student looking to improve his already prodigious but unrecognized skills. He mentions them in a letter to his brother Theo as an example of what his brother's money was paying for. The problem is that the painting then disappeared from history, and it's only now that we have finally rediscovered it.

High-energy radiation reveals a pair of secret Vincent Van Gogh paintings

The other side of this historical mystery is the painting on the left, which depicts a far more typically Van Gogh subjects: some flowers. The painting, called Still Life with Meadow Flowers and Roses was obtained by the Dutch museum Kröller-Müller Museum in 1974, and the big question since then has been whether this is really a Van Gogh. The size of the canvas and the gaudy look of the flowers don't look much like Van Gogh, which is why the museum declared the painting to be anonymous in 2003.

Now, thanks to ultraviolet and X-ray analyses by DESY, the electron synchrotron lab in Hamburg, we know the truth: the two wrestlers were hiding under Still Life with Meadow Flowers and Roses all along. Van Gogh painted the still-life over the wrestlers without even bothering to obscure the original work. As New Scientist explains, this reveals an all-new Van Gogh and confirms another one all in one fell swoop:

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.

Via New Scientist. Paintings via Kröller-Müller Museum.