A U.S. expert on European art says he has discovered a painting by Spanish 17th century master Diego Velazquez languishing in a back room of Yale University art gallery.
If it receives authentication by Madrid's Museo del Prado, which houses nearly 50 paintings by the Sevillian artist including the Las Meninas, the new find could be worth more than 8 million pounds ($12 million).
The large painting, "The Education of the Virgin Mary," portrays St. Anne teaching the Virgin Mary to read and is in poor shape, with paint peeled off and even pieces of the canvas trimmed away.
"I looked at it and had a nagging feeling I knew who it was by. I put it away again until one day it clicked. It had to be an early Velazquez," John Marciari, curator of European art at the San Diego Museum of Art in California, told Reuters by telephone.
Marciari, formerly gallery director at Yale, published the results of his investigation in an article in this month's Ars Magazine, an art collecting publication based in Madrid.
The next step will be to exhibit the painting alongside other works for the scrutiny of art scholars worldwide.
Experts withholding opinionExperts at the National Gallery in London and Madrid's the Prado museum have yet to form an opinion.
"It is interesting news but we cannot comment until we have seen the painting ourselves,' said a spokesman for the Prado.
The painting probably arrived on US shores at the turn of the 19th century, Marciari said, but was then consigned to a dark corner of a store room and largely ignored.
It was only in 2003 during a renovation at Yale that it was moved to a better-lit room and came to Marciari's attention.
Marciari's reasoning is partly based on similarities between the painting and Velazquez's Inmaculate Conception.
One factor which may indicate authorship is that the painter used blue and yellow to make green during his Seville-based period, rather than green paint itself, for draperies.
Marciari believes the painting, an altar piece, was damaged in floods in Seville in 1626 and put away until the early 19th century when works of the same type became fashionable to wealthy U.S. and British travellers. It would later have been shipped to the US.
The Velazquez claim coincides with an exhibition at the National Gallery in London, "Close Examination, Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries," which examines disputed authorship and problems of authenticity.
On show is a painting once thought to be a Velazquez but which technical analysis later disproved and whose authorship is now unknown.
If it is the work of the Spanish master it could be worth around 8.5 million pounds ($12.8 million), the price paid by the Focus-Abengoa foundation in Seville, for his "Santa Rufina" painting in 2007.
"If it does turn out to be a Velazquez then the whole world will be interested in acquiring it,' the Prado spokesman said.