Sometime in the late 19th century a palm-sized portrait of Charles Dickens was reported unaccounted for by its artist, Margaret Gillies. Attempts to locate the work failed and it was consigned to history.
But earlier this year the lost painting, estimated to be worth up to a quarter of a million dollars, was found languishing in a box of bric-a-brac at a house clearance sale in the South African city of Pietermaritzburg.
Knowing they had found something special, the buyers sent the piece to London to be authenticated.
“It was electrifying when it first came into the gallery, even though it was obscured by mold,” art dealer Philip Mould, whose firm Philip Mould & Company authenticated the work, told media.
“He is really dashing in the portrait, with brown eyes that fix you — which the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning described as eagle eyes.”
Mould said Dickens’ eyes “shone through” in the portrait in spite of the damage, adding that it took two months to restore the artwork.
“It was almost as if he was coming to life,” Mould, said of the portrait, which will be on public display at his gallery from Thursday, 22 November, its first London exhibition since 1844.