LADY Hambleden says she won?t be taking legal action against auctioneers after a painting they sold for her for £3,500 was found to be a John Constable sketch worth about £2 million.
She said she was ?never enamoured? with the oil on canvas work and it was left untouched in a cupboard at Hambleden Manor, her former home, for decades.
The painting was among valuables sold by Christie?s in London in the summer of 2013 following the sale of the house after the death of her former husband Viscount Hambleden.
Now it is to be auctioned by Sotheby?s in New York on Thursday with an estimate of $2 to $3 million.
Lady Hambleden said: ?I?m very sad about the whole thing because Christie?s have been friends of the Hambleden family for centuries.
?I just felt sorry for everybody that this has happened. We have always had dealings with Christie?s and they are all friends.
?I do recall the painting and I tell you what, it was so black and so gloomy and so sad that I never hung it anywhere in the house.
?All the other pictures I had in the house I had either restored or cleaned but this I never gave a thought. I was never enamoured by it.
?My mother-in-law, who was the Dowager Lady Hambleden, also didn?t hang it ? it was always in this cupboard.?
Lady Hambleden was in Rome visiting her brother when she learned the painting had been verified by an expert as a Constable.
?I had absolutely no idea, it was a total surprise,? she said.
Asked if she had considered legal action, she said: ?It has nothing to do with me.
?I?m really completely out of it ? I?m not benefiting from anything.?
The painting is a preparatory sketch for one of Constable?s most celebrated masterpieces, Salisbury Cathedral From The Meadows, and was valued at between £500 and £800 by Christie?s which thought it was the work of a ?follower?.
A collector bought it for £3,500 and then realised it had been heavily retouched.
Anne Lyles, a leading authority on Constable, said the painting was one of five preliminary oil sketches for his 1831 masterpiece, which was bought by the Tate Gallery in 2013 for £23.1 million.
She said it was ?one of the most exciting and important additions? to Constable?s body of work to have emerged in decades.
Ms Lyles continued: ?At the time of the dispersal of the contents of Hambleden Manor at Christie?s in 2013, it is interesting to note that this painting was overlooked.
?[It] was heavily retouched with a dark and opaque pigment, which probably dated to the late 19th or early 20th century, in a misguided attempt to ?finish? the painting, thus depriving it of its lively, sketchy quality.
?Thankfully, the retouchings on the present painting were readily soluble in the course of its recent cleaning and Constable?s original and brilliant conception has been once again revealed.?
A Christie?s spokesman said: ?We are aware that Sotheby?s are offering this work as a Constable.
?We took the view at the time of our sale in 2013 that it was ?follower of?. We understand that there is no clear expert consensus on the new proposed attribution.?
Born Countess Maria Carmela Attolico di Adelfia, Lady Hambleden married William Herbert Smith, the fourth Viscount Hambleden, in 1955.
When the couple divorced in 1988, she remained in the manor while her ex-husband moved to America, where he died in August 2012, aged 82.
She sold the manor to a private buyer at the end of 2012 and moved to a cottage in the centre of the village.The following year she sold valuables, including paintings, tables, chairs, carpets and vases, saying she no longer had room for them, and raised just over £1.17 million.