Cottage for sale at £500,000 could be hiding a £1m painting

Will the new owners track down the lost masterpiece?

Woodlands Farm, near Pickering in the North York Moors.  The buyer of this country home could purchase more than they bargained for if they uncover the farmhouse's 60-year secret - a £1M Renaissance painting hidden inside. See ROSS PARRY story RPYHOUSE.  The idyllic residential dwelling Woodhouse Farm nestled in the North York Moors and set in ten acres of woods and grassland is up for sale for £500,000.  But the 18th century property, deep within the former pre-industrial settlement of Rosedale, North Yorks., could be a better investment. Sixty years ago, it was home to one of Yorkshire's great eccentrics - a retired cloth merchant and 'bathtub admiral’ called George Baxter.  In 1930, he had acquired a painting by the Renaissance master Sebastiano del Piombo, a friend and protégé of Michelangelo.  The Dutch State University of Art pronounced it genuine and valued it at £25,000 at pre-war prices.  Baxter, who liked to call himself the Hermit of Rosedale, put it on display for just three weeks at Middlesbrough Library, whose custodians insured it for £12,500. When Baxter died in 1959, he was believed to have left the painting behind at Woodlands Farm.  Baxter's death, at 63, prompted a veritable gold rush, as overnight art dealers flocked to the Moors in search of del Piombo's elusive masterpiece, described, by Middlesbrough Library at least, as "the most beautiful picture of Christ in the world".  But the house and outbuildings were boarded and barricaded.  Neither they, nor the surrounding acres, have given up their secret since.

Woodhouse Farm has gone on sale for £500,000. It's a beautiful home in itself, set within the North York Moors national park. However, the lucky buyer could be snapping up the bargain of a lifetime, because there's thought to be a £1 million painting hidden somewhere inside.

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The painting is of Jesus Christ, by the Renaissance master Sebastian del Piombo. It was bought by a retired cloth merchant called George Baxter in 1930, and in 1933 he put it on display at Middlesbrough Library for three weeks. Baxter then went on to live at Woodhouse Farm, and was still there when he died in 1959. It's thought he had the painting with him.

Detail from the missing painting "Christ and His Cross" by Sebastiano del Piombo.  The buyer of this country home could purchase more than they bargained for if they uncover the farmhouse's 60-year secret - a £1M Renaissance painting hidden inside. See ROSS PARRY story RPYHOUSE.  The idyllic residential dwelling Woodhouse Farm nestled in the North York Moors and set in ten acres of woods and grassland is up for sale for £500,000.  But the 18th century property, deep within the former pre-industrial settlement of Rosedale, North Yorks., could be a better investment. Sixty years ago, it was home to one of Yorkshire's great eccentrics - a retired cloth merchant and 'bathtub admiral’ called George Baxter.  In 1930, he had acquired a painting by the Renaissance master Sebastiano del Piombo, a friend and protégé of Michelangelo.  The Dutch State University of Art pronounced it genuine and valued it at £25,000 at pre-war prices.  Baxter, who liked to call himself the Hermit of Rosedale, put it on display for just three weeks at Middlesbrough Library, whose custodians insured it for £12,500. When Baxter died in 1959, he was believed to have left the painting behind at Woodlands Farm.  Baxter's death, at 63, prompted a veritable gold rush, as overnight art dealers flocked to the Moors in search of del Piombo's elusive masterpiece, described, by Middlesbrough Library at least, as "the most beautiful picture of Christ in the world".  But the house and outbuildings were boarded and barricaded.  Neither they, nor the surrounding acres, have given up their secret since.

However, after his death, the house and outbuildings were boarded up, and there was no sight of the paintings. Since they have been reopened, no subsequent owner has tracked it down.

If the new owner can find the painting, it would be an impressive discovery. However, short of ripping up every floorboard and knocking holes in every wall it's hard to see how they might find it.

Fortunately even if the myth of the painting doesn't come up trumps, then the buyer can console themselves that they have a lovely house for their money. The three-bedroom 18th century farmhouse is also set in ten acres of woods and grasslands, so would make a perfect getaway cottage - or a full-time home.

Paintings

It seems ludicrous to expect a valuable artwork to be lurking behind the wall in the kitchen, but it has happened before. We reported last spring on the couple in Wales who knocked down a partition wall and discovered a poster advertising the Titanic hidden behind it. It was valued at £3,000.

Then there was the couple in the US who were remodelling the kitchen and under the cabinet they found a safe - containing $51,080 and, a rare bottle of Bourbon. They posted a photo of their find online, and offered to return the money. They said, however, that they would be keeping the whisky.

So who knows what could be lurking inside your home.

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