Earliest Known Gainsborough Portrait Discovered Online by Art Amateur

He bagged the painting, which had an erroneous attribution, at auction for just $3,180.

Unknown Woman , by Thomas Gainsborough.
Unknown Woman , by Thomas Gainsborough.

Rifling through online auction catalogs in search of lost treasures requires a trained eye and buckets of diligence. But for one man and his son, their endeavours have paid off and they’ve managed to acquire what is now being recognized as the earliest known painting by the 18th century British artist Thomas Gainsborough.

Retired company director Robert Mulraine came across the painting, Unknown Woman, while helping his art art restorer son James, who initially suspected it to be the work of another 18th century painter, Francis Hayman.

The pair bought the painting for £2,600 ($3,180) at a small auction house a year ago, but is now likely to sell for a considerably larger amount. The current record for one of Gainsborough’s works is £6.5 million ($7.9 million), for his famous Portrait of Miss Read, later Mrs William Villebois (1776), which sold at Christie’s London in 2011.

“I’ve learnt a great deal from him and now I’m his extra pair of eyes,” Mulraine told the Telegraph.

“It’s incredibly exciting to find any lost or miscatalogued pieces of art, so anything that I see that I think looks interesting I send an image to him. Some months ago I saw this picture come up at auction of a young lady, attributed to circle of Arthur Devis, and I was so taken by the quality that I sent the image to James for his opinion…He thought it could well be an early Gainsborough. You can imagine we were quite excited,” he added.

Gainsborough, one of the founding members of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, was known for his fast speed and became one of the dominant British portraitists of his time.

According to the Telegraph, experts have dated Unknown Woman as having been painted in around 1742, when the artist was just 15-years-old.

Despite the fact that no scientific analysis has been conducted on the painting, the art historian and authority on Gainsborough Hugh Belsey is so convinced of the authenticity of the work that he will be including the painting in the forthcoming, second catalogue raisonné of Gainsborough’s work, confirming it’s authenticity within the art world.


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