IT LOOKS like a Hogarth painting, and it's aged like a Hogarth painting...but art experts have concluded a portrait belonging to a Maryborough historical society is not a masterpiece by the great 18th Century artist.
A series of experts has spent the past 18 months unlocking the secrets of the mysterious painting, which was donated to the Maryborough Wide Bay and Burnett Historical Society by Minnie Hull in the 1970s.
Ms Hull's relatives received the oil-on-board artwork as a wedding gift in 1881 and were told it was a self-portrait painted by William Hogarth in 1731.
The artist - who was believed to be the man featured in the painting, holding a paint palette in one hand and a paintbrush in the other - was famed for his satirical works which fetched huge prices on the international art market.
After being kept locked away in a safe for 30 years, the piece went on display in 2003 where it was largely ignored for years until Fiona Mohr from the Queensland Museum spotted it during an audit of regional galleries, and sent it off for closer examination.
According to preliminary valuations, the painting could have been worth up to $1 million if it was found to be authentic.
But months of painstaking detective work by some of the country's top art experts has revealed that rather than being the work of the master himself, it may have been painted by one of Hogarth's students.
Wide Bay and Burnett Historical Society secretary Shirley Hewitt said the decision was reached because there were no pencil marks visible under the paint - a feature that often distinguished authentic artworks from counterfeits or imitations.
"Everything you could possibly do to a painting has been done to it - X-rays, blue-lights, paint scrapings - all sorts of tests," Mrs Hewitt said.
"Our painting does not have pencil marks, so they determined that it was not a true Hogarth.
"But considering the similarities and that the frame is the right age, they believe it might have been painted by one of his students."
The ornate gold frame has been dated as from the early-to-mid 18th Century, when Hogarth was active in the British art scene.
Despite the disappointing result, Mrs Hewitt said the historical society was simply pleased to have its painting back.
"One of our members has been down to Brisbane to pick it up and it is now back on display," she said.
"It's back in its old place and I think we'll keep it here from now on."
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