A rediscovered masterpiece

6th August 2021

A re-discovered painting by famed artist, Sir Joshua Reynolds, has been sold by auction at Woolley and Wallis after remaining untraced for 84 years.

The oil painting, titled ‘The Laughing Girl’, had not been seen since 1937 until it was discovered hanging on the wall of a private family home in Hampshire, where the owners believed it to be a copy.

Valuers from Woolley and Wallis in Salisbury had been brought in to look at various items prior to a house move and spotted the artwork hanging in the stairwell.

“The quality of the labels on the back were the first indication that it was unlikely to be just a copy,” explained Victor Fauvelle, Paintings specialist at Woolley and Wallis. “Fortunately, this picture is well documented in Reynolds’ catalogue raisonné, and we were able to identify it as a painting that had been effectively missing for over eight decades.”

The provenance of ‘The Laughing Girl’, can in fact be traced back to the time it was painted for the Polygraphic Society in 1787. When the society closed in 1793 it was purchased by the artist, John Opie, who kept it until his death in 1807.

Between 1807 and 1877 the painting was in the collection of the Earls of Lonsdale and would have hung on the walls of Lowther Castle in Cumbria. It was sold at Christie’s in 1877 by the 5th Earl of Lonsdale and since then has passed through the hands of the collector, James Orrock, and of Arthur Sanderson, the Scottish whisky distiller. However, the painting’s whereabouts became unknown after it was purchased by the Fine Art Society in 1937.

The painting’s current owners inherited it from a private collection in Berkshire and were amazed to find out that they owned a picture by the artist who was the Painter to King George III. They decided to consign it to auction with Woolley and Wallis where it is expected to fetch upwards of £15,000.

“It is really exciting for us to be able to bring this painting onto the market for the first time in 84 years and offer up a masterpiece for which people have been searching for some time,” said Fauvelle.

‘The Laughing Girl’ was sold in Salisbury on 12th August for £46,250 including premium.


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