An obscure oil painting bought for thousands in a private sale is a priceless lost Turner masterpiece, according to a leading Birmingham expert.
The small seascape, which was purchased in Wales five years ago by Frank Faryab, an art and antiques dealer, could be worth several million pounds.
Mr Faryab, who lives in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, was tipped off in 2007 that the work might be by Turner, although it was sold as a minor work by another artist “in the manner of Turner”.
Mr Faryab claims to have spent more than £2 million and much of the past five years trying to persuade experts that the painting, a 20in x 16in oil-on-pine panel of a hazy sailing ship, is in fact by JMW Turner. He will not say how much he paid for it.
He has had it cleaned and reframed and has gathered scientific evidence, including infra-red dating, checking fingerprints and artistic tests to prove its provenance.
“Years of neglect, dirt, soot and nicotine had left their mark. But I instinctively knew its true quality, which was why I was prepared to invest so much on research proving my judgement,” said Mr Faryab.
The work, painted in October 1844, depicts the boat of the French king, Louis-Philippe, arriving in Portsmouth harbour. This event is well recorded in the papers of the day and in five other Turner pictures owned by the Tate. Turner and the king were friends.
In fact Louis-Philippe, who reigned from 1830 to 1848, lived near Turner from 1800 to 1815 in Twickenham, London, and even gave the artist a snuff box.
Three Turner authorities have been to Geneva, where the painting is kept, and all have reported either categorically or “almost certainly” that the work is by Turner.
Doctor James Hamilton, of the University of Birmingham, described the work as a “magnificent Turner”.
“As soon as I saw this painting I knew it was a Turner,” he said. “It just struck me as absolutely right. His brush strokes are all over the work. It is as if you can feel Turner coming out of the painting.”
Dr Hamilton, who has written numerous books on Turner, added: “Through a discussion of style, paint handling and subject matter I propose that this painting is an autograph work of JMW Turner.”
On the subject matter of “The arrival of Louis-Philippe at Portsmouth in October 1844” he added: “Important as the event was for Anglo-French relations it was also an important personal moment for Turner himself.
“This was the arrival of an old friend who was now a crowned king.