The London dealer will now take it to TEFAF Maastricht next month where it will have an asking price of £38,000.
Showing the sitter in profile wearing a felt hat and smock, the painting came to Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood in Exeter in July unframed, unsigned and in a dirty state, having been kept in storage for some considerable time.
The 2ft x 20in (61 x 50cm) oil on canvas also suffered from a large vertical tear and several other holes and scratches.
At the sale it was catalogued simply as ‘English school c.1900’ and estimated at £100-200. Maas was among a number of bidders who believed its underlining quality and attractive subject merited more attention. He eventually won the lot at £9800 (plus 25% buyer’s premium).
Shortly after the sale, Maas told ATG that he suspected it to be by a Newlyn School painter (see Art Market, ATG No 2557). “Luckily the tear is not near his face,” he said, “and it is in much better condition than it looks.”
He has now had the picture cleaned and relined with remarkable results. “It’s scrubbed up a treat. It was in fantastic condition under the grime.”
A number of factors led to the attribution to Knight who often chose to depict his sitters in profile against a plain background – such as the striking portrait of fellow artist Robert Morson Hughes holding a pint of beer that sold for £46,000 at Lays in Penzance only a few weeks after the BHL sale (reported in ATG No 2554).
Maas said: “The picture’s not signed, and not exhibited, but then we found that Knight’s close friend and painting companion Harold Harvey had painted the same boy in Cornwall in 1917.”
Dating from 1917, that Harvey picture sold for £17,000 at Christie’s in 1996 and it has given Maas a date for his painting.
“We bought this picture because the boy is so unconsciously beautiful, caught in the bloom of health and youth," said Maas. We thought before we bought it that it was by Knight, because the hard profile and flat treatment is so very typical of him.”