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‘Forgotten’ Rubens could fetch £3.5million after the grime-covered artwork was snapped for £78,000

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It had gathered dust in a family collection for over a century.

But now a portrait of a woman in a black dress and cloak could make £3.5million at auction – after it was discovered to be a masterpiece by Rubens.

The true origins of Portrait Of A Lady were revealed when layers of dirt and varnish were removed.

A portrait of a woman in a black dress and cloak (above) could make £3.5million at a Sotheby's auction on July 29, after it was discovered to be a masterpiece by Flemish artist Rubens

A portrait of a woman in a black dress and cloak (above) could make £3.5million at a Sotheby’s auction on July 29, after it was discovered to be a masterpiece by Flemish artist Rubens

The 17th century masterpiece had been exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1902 as a work by Rubens – but auctioneers Sotheby’s said its origins had been ‘forgotten about’.

After remaining in a family’s collection, it was sold for £78,000 in 2017. 

At the time it was catalogued as being from the workshop of Flemish master Rubens, meaning it was thought to have been painted by one of his assistants, possibly overseen by the artist himself. 

The anonymous buyer, who is now selling the work, hoped it was the real thing so he snapped up the painting and took it to Sotheby’s for experts to assess. 

The masterpiece, Portrait Of A Lady, was sold for £78,000 in 2017 and was thought to have been painted by one of Ruben's assistants. But the anonymous buyer, who is now selling ti, hoped it was the real thing and got it revalued

The masterpiece, Portrait Of A Lady, was sold for £78,000 in 2017 and was thought to have been painted by one of Ruben’s assistants. But the anonymous buyer, who is now selling ti, hoped it was the real thing and got it revalued 

Andrew Fletcher, of the auctioneers, said: ‘It was quite dirty, with 100 years of dirt and old varnish on it.’ 

But when it was cleaned ‘this rather wonderful Rubens was revealed’. 

He added: ‘It’s one of those moments that you have a couple of times a year when you walk in and you just have this wonderful instant reaction of glee.’ He described the 1625 portrait as ‘very majestic’. 

It will be auctioned at Sotheby’s on July 29 with a £2.5million to £3.5million estimate. It will be the first major evening sale in London since lockdown.

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