Holburne Museum buys portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence

Arthur Atherley (1772-1844) Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) Oil on canvas, 1791 Image copyright Holburne Museum
Image caption About £420,000 was raised by the Holburne Museum to acquire Sir Thomas Lawrence's oil sketch of Arthur Atherley

An oil sketch by Sir Thomas Lawrence which has never been seen in public, has been bought by a museum in Bath.

Sir Lawrence's 1791 "first sketch" of Arthur Atherley - for one of his most celebrated portraits - has been held in a private collection for 150 years.

About £420,000 was raised by Holburne Museum to acquire the work, which is due to go on display from 28 January.

Jennifer Scott, from the gallery, said: "It's the biggest acquisition the museum has made to date."

The 2ft (60cm) tall work was purchased with the help of the Art Fund and Heritage Lottery Fund, among others, and public donations of more than £60,000.

Featuring a 19-year-old Atherley, who had recently left Eton College, the study was the "first sketch from life" for a three-quarter length portrait now held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

'Once in a lifetime'

The artist, who lived and worked in Bath in his teens, exhibited Atherley's finished portrait at the Royal Academy in 1792.

The preliminary study is thought to have remained in Lawrence's studio until his death, before being sold in 1860 for £30.

Ms Scott, the gallery's director, said raising the funds had been a "fantastic achievement" but acquiring the work had been a "once in a lifetime opportunity".

"We specialize in 18th Century portraiture and we didn't have anything by Sir Lawrence, which hasn't felt right," she said,

"But the response has been overwhelming, enabling us to raise this large amount in a short time period.

"It is a reflection of both the quality of the painting itself, and the relevance of an outstanding early Lawrence portrait coming to the South West."

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