Five years of fruitless searching had left the National Portrait Gallery almost abandoning hope of finding a lost Gainsborough painting, but the letters page of Country Life came to the rescue.

'Margaret Gainsborough, the Artist’s Daughter, Playing a Cittern', by Thomas Gainsborough

‘Margaret Gainsborough, the Artist’s Daughter, Playing a Cittern’, by Thomas Gainsborough. Private collection via the National Portrait Gallery. Photo by Matthew Hollow.

In July 2015, Dr Lucy Peltz of the National Portrait Gallery in London had a clever idea to try and find the whereabouts of several paintings that the artist Thomas Gainsborough had done of various family members.

Years of looking via the usual channels hadn’t yielded results, and hardly surprising considering that some of the paintings hadn’t been seen in public for well over a century.

Thus is was that Dr Peltz decided to try writing a letter to Country Life:

Gainsborough mystery

The letter was a huge success – the owner of the pictures saw the letter and contacted the gallery.

‘Representatives of the owners of the painting discovered that we were looking for it after we put the notice in and got in touch with us very late in the day,’ Dr Peltz told The Times.

So well did it work, in fact, that a few months later, in September, Dr Peltz wrote another letter:

Gainsborough mystery

Once again, the pleae bore fruit – and the unfinished painting of Gainsborough’s daughter Margaret is now one of the highlights of the ‘Gainsborough Family Album‘ exhibition currently on at the NPG, which runs until February 3.