Have you ever wondered whether the dusty painting in your attic or sculpture in your garden might be worth a fortune? For many of us, the dream is to find a long-lost masterpiece.

This dream has come true for a north London family. A 15th-century Italian master was discovered in the home of a 90-year-old woman, who had inherited it from her father more than 30 years ago. Her family were in the process of selling the bungalow and its contents when they came across the painting. The family had no knowledge of the painting’s history or value. During a routine valuation, the oil painting depicting the Madonna and Child was attributed to Filippino Lippi, a pupil of Botticelli. It has now sold for £255,000 at Dawsons Auctioneers. The sale proceeds will help the family pay for the 90-year-old owner’s care.

A long-lost sculpture of Italian master Antonio Canova was discovered only a few months earlier. A British couple purchased the white marble figure of Maddalena Giacente at a garden statuary auction in Sussex, England, for £5,200. When they suspected they might have a “sleeper” in their garden, they instructed an art adviser to find out more about the sculpture. Interestingly, Christie’s first offered the sculpture for sale in 1852. Its attribution to Canova appears to have been lost around 1920 when it was acquired through the sale of a manor house which was destroyed by a fire. The sculpture was no longer recognised as by Canova in a 1938 auction of the manor house and its contents. It was sold again in 1959 and the late 1960s as a sleeper. It is now re-attributed to Canova and offered for sale during Christie’s upcoming “Classic Week” with an estimate of £5million to £8million.

Often artworks that pass through many hands remain undiscovered. This is a particular phenomenon with Old Masters given the passage of time since they left the artist’s studio. A sleeper is an object that has been wrongly attributed and/or undervalued through an oversight of an expert and consequently undersold. Experts may legitimately reach different conclusions based on the same evidence, however, and attributions come and go over time. Given the importance of attributions, the sale of sleepers has given rise to heated disputes as well as excitement in the market.

Our Art & Luxury team would be happy to advise you if you suspect you have found a forgotten masterpiece or are embroiled in a dispute concerning a sleeper.