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IT is being hailed as the biggest art discovery in years – an unseen work by one of England’s greatest portraitists.

But you won’t see this image hanging on the walls of a gallery or museum. For it is hidden away at a Northumberland stately home.

Now, however, cutting-edge scientific techniques have revealed the spectacular picture for the first time in nearly 250 years – and helped solve a centuries-old mystery involving two of the nation’s most revered artists.

Did Sir Joshua Reynolds rework a classic masterpiece from the brush of his rival Thomas Gainsborough?

The answer after months of painstaking research and old-fashioned detective work is a resounding yes.

But the extent of Reynolds’ reworking of Gainsborough’s 1761 portrait of the young Susannah ‘Suky’ Trevelyan which has hung in Wallington since shortly after being completed, has astounded even the art expert commissioned by the National Trust to probe into the historically priceless work’s past.

An astonishing 80 per cent of Gainsborough’s original painting has been changed, leaving just Susannah’s face and the background untouched.

And it has also emerged that Reynolds didn’t even bother to make the rework unique to Susannah. Research has revealed the Wallington painting is an almost exact copy of another Reynolds masterpiece of Charlotte Walpole, the Countess of Dysart, which hangs in fellow National Trust property, Ham House near Richmond.

The news means Wallington is in possession of a unique painting that can claim to be the work of not one but two of England’s greatest artists.

The portrait goes back on display at Wallington this Saturday following an 18-month absence.

X-rays and photographic images showing Gainsborough’s original work will be displayed alongside the portrait in a new presentation telling the story of Susannah Trevelyan and the amazing history of her painting.

There will also be a family room on the theme of the portrait with hands-on activities, including dressing-up clothes. The Portrait of a Lady events take place on Saturday and Sunday from 1pm to 3pm.

Pictured with the portrait are Nicky Grimaldi, senior lecturer in fine art and conservation at Northumbria Univeristy, Lloyd Langley, Wallington’s house collections manager and Gillian Mason, Wallington’s visitor experience manager.