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Gallery: Millions sliced off Gainsborough masterpiece after owners cut it out - reveals Sudbury-based expert as he stars on BBC Fake or Fortune? show

PUBLISHED: 13:17 11 February 2014 | UPDATED: 13:17 11 February 2014

Mark Bills is pictured at Gainsborough House in Sudbury. A painting has been recently identified as a Gainsborough via a TV show.

Mark Bills is pictured at Gainsborough House in Sudbury. A painting has been recently identified as a Gainsborough via a TV show.

Archant

An 18th Century portrait which languished for years in the backroom of a city museum has been identified as a work by Suffolk’s most famous artist, Thomas Gainsborough.

Joseph Gape by Thomas GainsboroughJoseph Gape by Thomas Gainsborough

But because the portrait of Joseph Gape, former mayor of St Albans, has been cut into an oval shape at some point during the past 300 years, its value will have been sliced from potentially millions of pounds to just tens of thousands, according to experts.

The identity of the artist was uncovered by Gainsborough specialist Hugh Belsey, from Bury St Edmunds, on the BBC programme Fake or Fortune? – which aired on Sunday and was filmed at the artist’s birthplace in Sudbury.

The Gape portrait, painted in 1762, was one of 17,000 oil paintings registered as “artist unknown” on the Your Paintings online record of UK artworks.

The work, loaned to the Museum of St Albans by descendents of Joseph Gape, was one of two “lost” Gainsborough’s identified on the show. Imaginary Landscape, held in London’s Courtauld Institute, was also acknowledged as a drawing by the artist, which had been ‘painted over’ by another following Gainsborough’s death.

Mr Belsey said because the Gape portrait had been tampered with – possibly in the 18th Century by someone who wanted it to fit in with a gallery of fashionably oval paintings and who was unaware of its future worth – the painting’s value would have been reduced.

Mark Bills, director of Gainsborough’s House museum in Sudbury, agreed, adding: “We have a big collection of Gainsborough’s portraits where he painted a kind of feigned oval frame around the image inside the rectangular frame.

“This particular work has been cut around that painted line to make it an oval shape, which will have cut the value down considerably.

“Gainsborough’s works can be worth anything from tens of thousands of pounds to multi-millions. This is now likely to be at the lower end of the scale.”

According to Mr Bills, Gainsborough would have found the mystery surrounding the paintings “amusing”. He said: “It was reported in the 18th Century newspapers that he was once in a position where he had to judge whether a painting was fake or real.

“He was called as a witness when someone bought a ‘Nicolas Poussin’ and thought they had been conned by the dealer. Gainsborough cast his painter’s eye over it and concluded that it ‘left him with no emotions’ – he 
said he wouldn’t give five shillings for it!”

It is still largely down to the experts’ eye to judge whether a painting is genuine or not.

“It’s a responsible job when such big money involved,” Mr Bills added.

1 comment

  • It doesn't strike me as a particularly **good** painting. A case of "being valuable because the painter was famous" rather than "being valuable because of its quality"?

    Report this comment

    beerlover

    Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A 333 mile journey home for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation finished on Saturday when the Hike4Hopey charity walkers arrived at St James’ Park, Newcastle.

Seven suspected Ukrainian illegal immigrants have been arrested after their yacht ran aground on the Suffolk coast today.

Several people were stuck for reportedly more than an hour on a ride at the Cymbeline Meadow fair, Colchester.

Family of a Suffolk man who died from a brain tumour have attended a ceremony to open a Quiet Room in his memory at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

A spring cleaning campaign across west Suffolk has seen volunteers litter pick and remove more than 460 bags of waste from public open spaces.

Firefighters tackled a “needless” blaze at the former Manganese Bronze plant in Ipswich on Sunday night.

The fire in the top floor of the two-storey derelict building, behind houses on Hadleigh Road, was caused by trespassers.
 The fire was reported at around 5.30pm on April 30 and six crews, including an aerial appliance, were expected to battle the blaze for several hours last night.
 Station Commander Jon Southgate, of Princes Street station, said the fire was caused by someone deliberately or accidentally setting the fire.
 “There are numerous discarded needles around the site and from experience we know there will be needles inside as well,” he said. “We will not be entering the building because I want to ensure the safety of our firefighters. 
 “It is a shame that we are now going to have four crews fighting a completely needless and preventable fire.”

It may have been a forgettable season finish for Blues fans at Portman Road on Saturday – but one moment of magic should cheer even the most desolate of supporters.

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