A missing sketch of a painting by Scarborough’s most famous artist, Frederic, Lord Leighton, has been found in the home of TV quizmaster Bamber Gascoigne.
The study of Flaming June, thought to have been missing for 120 years, was discovered after the former presenter of University Challenge inherited a stately home, West Horsley Place in Surrey, from his aristocratic aunt.
The picture, a pencil and chalk head study, was found in a small antechamber of the sprawling country house, which had been owned by the Duchess of Roxburghe.
It will now be sold for an estimated £60,000, after experts said it was the “final piece of the jigsaw” surrounding the famous painting.
Gascoigne, who despite spending time at the house with the Duchess had never set foot upstairs, was surprised to find a treasure trove of paintings, jewels, silverware and china stashed in cupboards and trunks around the empty rooms.
He called in auctioneers from Sotheby’s, who quickly spotted the remarkable lost sketch on the wall of a little-used room.
It is the only known head study for Flaming June, the painting confusingly nicknamed the Mona Lisa of the Southern Hemisphere after being bought by a Puerto Rico gallery.
The find now provides the missing link in the story of the painting’s evolution, with four other preparatory studies of different parts of the painting already being known by experts.
Simon Toll, Sotheby’s Victorian art specialist who spotted the picture in its humble setting, said it was one of the most “heart-stopping moments” of his career.
The painting, Flaming June, was created in 1895, loaned to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and fell into private hands before re-emerging onto the marked in the 1960s.
Frederic Leighton, one of the most famous British Victorian artists, was born in Scarborough and Scarborough Art Gallery has his painting Jezebel and Ahab.
The study will be sold by Sotheby’s on July 15, with an estimate of £40,000 - £60,000.