FOR the second time in 12 months, a 'lost' masterpiece has been discovered in ecclesiastical surroundings in the county.

Last year, St Michael and All Angels in Ledbury was discovered to be the home of 'The Last Supper', by Polidoro da Lanciano, probably aided by Tintoretto.

But now Hereford Cathedral has been declared to be the home of a previously unattributed work by Thomas Gainsborough.

In the Sunday Telegraph, Hugh Belsey, a world authority on the 18th century master, reveals that the portrait of Rev Isaac Donnithorne, previously thought to be by Gainsborough’s nephew and sole apprentice, Gainsborough Dupont, is in fact by Gainsborough himself.

Mr Belsey will publish the news in his catalogue raisonné, a definitive study of Gainsborough's works, which number around 1,100, to be published by Yale University next month.

He told the Telegraph: “The job of a catalogue raisonné is to lay down a marker and to say ‘this is what an artist did’.

"We probably know most of the famous pictures, but one or two have got away for whatever reason. Therefore it gives you a complete picture of his complete activity.

“It’s an impressive picture. It shows his characteristic handling of brushwork, so liquid and descriptive.”

Mr Belsey is a former director of Gainsborough’s House, a museum at the artist’s birthplace in Sudbury, Suffolk, where he built up one of the world’s largest collections of the artist’s work.

Donnithorne was an Anglican priest who later inherited family estates in Cornwall which produced a huge income with annual profits of £35,000.

He is depicted in a green upholstered chair, wearing a clergyman's stockings and wig but with his business ledgers.

The painting, which Mr Belsey dates to around 1770, hangs in the Cathedral Vestry and has been a fixture of the cathedral’s collection since 1850 when it was donated to the then College of Vicar’s Choral.

Previously it was hung in College Hall, within the cloisters.

Another version of the picture is in the Falmouth Art Gallery.

The Very Revd Michael Tavinor, Dean of Hereford said, “Throughout our history we have always seen ourselves as a place where artistic treasures are valued.

"This painting, over the years, has been displayed in many places due to its impressive size and enjoyed by many.

"We are delighted to now receive the news that it is considered to be painted by Thomas Gainsborough having always believed that, due to the name plate, it was created by his nephew, Gainsborough Dupont.”

Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) is considered one of the most important British portrait artists of the second half of the 18th century. He is buried in Kew where his wife and his nephew Gainsborough Dupont (1754-1797), were later interred in the same grave.

The cathedral is now discussing the best way of displaying the painting, which measures 7½ foot by 5 foot, so that it can be viewed by visitors.