Consigned by a private collector, it has been on loan since 2016 at the vice-admiral and navigator’s former home Buckland Abbey, now a National Trust property.
The portrait has been catalogued as ‘Anglo-Dutch School, late 16th/early 17th Century’. The auctioneers said that scientific analysis of the painting combined with the approximate age of the sitter suggests the possibility that it dates from the 1570s.
Only a handful of contemporaneous portraits of Drake are known including an oil painting by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger of 1591 in the National Maritime Museum, a Nicholas Hilliard miniature and a portrait by an unknown artist after an engraving attributed to Jodocus Hondius.
The work at Bonhams was previously in a different UK collection until 1982 where the identity of the sitter was unknown.
However, the physical similarities to the other portraits, including the presence of a facial wart, helped the current owner identify the subject, something that Bonhams head of Old Masters Andrew McKenzie said was now “widely accepted by the leading scholars on English portraiture of this period”.
Bonhams said the work has been cleaned but is generally good condition “with no problematical issues about it”.
The portrait is estimated at £300,000-500,000 and will be offered at Bonhams Old Master Paintings sale on July 4.