The picture was among a small group of works that had been hanging in a family home for decades and which the vendors had always believed to be a copy of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ (1723-92) The Laughing Girl.
However, it is now thought that this 2ft 6in x 2ft 1in (76 x 64cm) oil on canvas was one of around five original autograph versions. It is also thought to be the one previously owned by the Earls of Lonsdale for five generations which was believed to be missing by scholars for the last 80 years.
Dating from 1787, The Laughing Girl was one of Reynolds’ so-called ‘fancy pictures’ that stand as a separate part of his oeuvre to his formal portraits. Unlike many of his portraits, these pictures often absorbed him for months and were invariably produced without studio assistance and entirely in his own hand.
This version of The Laughing Girl appears to have been much copied and reproduced in the 18th and 19th centuries, most likely due to the Earls of Lonsdale allowing it to be frequently exhibited and engraved.
The painting will carry an estimate of £15,000-20,000 at the auction in Salisbury on August 11-12.