A painting gifted to the University of Aberdeen more than 150 years ago has been found to be the work of Italian artist Canaletto, valued at £2 million.
The image of Roman ruins had previously hung in the university’s principal’s house and art experts thought it may have been the work of 18th century Venetian artist Canaletto’s pupils.
The painting was left to the university in 1863 by Alexander Henderson, along with other paintings and a collection of ancient Greek pottery.
In researching the work, senior history of art lecturer John Gash read an 1865 article from the Aberdeen Journal describing the painting as “The Ruins of a Temple”, by “B Canaletti”.
Mr Gash said: “It was often thought to be from the Canaletto school – that is, by one of Canaletto’s pupils or someone imitating his style. However I and others have long suspected it was a real Canaletto and now we have been able to confirm this.
“It is clear from the technique and the style, as in the language of forms and composition, that this is a Canaletto and is in fact an autograph work of the highest quality.”
The painting is not signed by the artist but this is not uncommon, Mr Gash said.
His findings with Canaletto expert Charles Beddington have been published in The Burlington Magazine, a leading journal on fine arts.
The experts said Canaletto was one of the most important Venetian painters of the 18th century, specialising in view paintings or “vedute” and was renowned for his images of Venice.
Mr Gash said: “It is difficult to put an accurate price on paintings such as this but given its physical size, subject matter and the quality of the piece I would suggest it could be worth between £1.5 million and £2 million.”
Another painting in the university’s collection has been attributed to Canaletto’s father, Bernardo Canal who became a copyist of his son’s views of Venice.
An exhibition of Canaletto’s work and other related items is being organised at the university.
The artist was born in Venice, the son of a theatrical scene painter. He was famed for his precisely depicted and evocative views of the city. Canaletto’s early pictures for local patrons are his most accomplished, but he quickly learned that providing paintings for tourists was the most lucrative way to make a living.
Canaletto was popular among British art lovers and he visited many times throughout his life.