The picture had been purchased by an Australian couple via the internet at an auction at Bamfords Auctioneers in Derby around five years ago. Joe and Rosanna Natoli hoped that the painting, titled Rejection with a signature of Tom Roberts, was a real Roberts and paid £7500.
The artist is considered one of Australia’s most important artists and his works sell for hundreds of thousands of pounds. He was a key member of the Australian Impressionism movement but his work has been widely faked.
After shipping the painting to Australia the couple were unable to get it authenticated. Three years after they bought the painting, the Natolis' business went bankrupt and the family lost their home.
Urgent appeal to 'Fake or Fortune?'
The couple contacted the BBC’s Fake or Fortune? team in the hope they would take on the case to prove it is a real Roberts which would enable the couple to sell it and raise the cash to buy a new home.
The programme, broadcast on the evening of September 3, took up the challenge and presenter Fiona Bruce and art dealer Philip Mould travelled to Australia to uncover the truth.
The probe began in London, where Roberts was the first Australian to be admitted to the Royal Academy of Arts and where he studied from 1881 to 1884. This was followed by a 10-day investigation in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
As part of the research artist Lisa Robert, great-granddaughter of Tom Roberts, was shown the painting and recognised it as his first self-portrait, adding: “It screams Tom Roberts”.
However despite likenesses found in sketchbooks attributed to Roberts and the tracing of the address on the back of the painting, there was no documented provenance and no clue to where the painting had been after it was painted in 1883.
The show's hosts took their evidence, along with the painting, to Mary Eagle of the Art Gallery of New South Wales who is a leading authority on Tom Roberts. Although she said parts of the work were not well painted, she eventually concluded the work was genuine.
It is predicted to be worth more than £200,000 and is now expected to be offered for sale through Philip Bacon Galleries in Brisbane, according to press reports.
Next in the Fake or Fortune? series will be the investigation of two paintings hoped by their owners to be by Paul Gauguin.