Re-using materials

When a painting is examined layer by layer, it often transpires that the artist has re-used the canvas or panel. This is hardly surprising. Artists' materials such as canvas stretchers, canvas, panel, paint and brushes were expensive, and most artists had to use them sparingly. Some would scrape the canvas or panel clean because they were dissatisfied with the work; others would simply paint over the original or begin with a new painting on the reverse.

Presumed lost
Particularly during the period 1886-1888, when he lived and worked in Paris, Van Gogh transpires to have re-used many of his canvases. Painters' canvas was expensive and Van Gogh probably considered it more important to try out something new than to save all his old studies. Thanks to x-ray photographs and pigment analyses, paintings can now be traced that Van Gogh mentions in his letters, but which had been presumed lost. In addition a number of hitherto unknown scenes that had been painted over have been discovered.
The paintings Baskets of potatoes and Basket of pansies were executed on canvases Van Gogh had previously used. In the 19th century it was extremely common to paint over an earlier work. Research into the Fisherman's wife by the French artist Van Gogh so admired Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875) shows that beneath this work another painting is hidden.

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Baskets of potatoes, 1885,  Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Basket with pansies on a table, 1887, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)Jean-Francois Millet, Fisherman's wife, 1884, Museum Mesdag, The Hague
Baskets of potatoes: two paintings underneath Basket of pansies: many layers of paint Fisherman's wife: a naked lady?

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