A lost painting is believed to live somewhere in or around this beautiful stone house in the North Yorks Moors.
It’s the dream USP for any house buyer: a half-million pound property that includes a £1m painting as part of the deal.
There’s just one problem: nobody has a clue where the painting might be.
This stone-built house in Yorkshire’s Rosedale Valley is delightful in its own right, a spacious a nicely-finished 18th-century home boasting three bedrooms, a range of outbuildings and over 10 acres of land in the heart of the North Yorks Moors.
For those who are after a house with hidden potential, however, there is another element to consider: that picture.
The house was once owned by an eccentric recluse called George Baxter, better known as ‘The Hermit of Rosedale’. Baxter inherited a painting by Renaissance master Sebastiano Del Piombo, a friend and protégé of both Raphael and Michelangelo.
The painting, ‘Christ with his Cross’, was valued at £35,000 in the 1920s. In the late 1930s Baxter exhibited it at Middlesbrough Art Gallery, which had it heavily insured for the occasion.
Sadly, the Second World War left Baxter a changed man. He boarded up the house, scared off visitors with a cry of ‘Invaders!’ and a blast from his shotgun, and took to calling himself by a string of titles, such as Admiral of the French Fleet, Sultan of Zanzibar, and Lord High Judge of England.
Baxter died in 1959, and while the house was searched for the painting after his death, it hasn’t been seen since.
‘It’s bizarre – the picture just disappeared’
The present owners have lived in the house for 10 years, and first found out about its existence when the builders they brought in to refurbish the place seemed oddly insistent on punching holes in chimney and walls.
‘We were a bit puzzled, but when we talked to someone in the village told us about the Hermit of Rosedale,’ the present owner says.
‘We’ve never found the painting, but the story in the village is that it’s somewhere in or around the house. It’s really tantalising.
‘I think it could still be here; there are some really old beams that the floorboards sit on, and I just wondered if he lifted them off, or hollowed out one of the walls.
‘But short of ripping the place up, we’ll never know. My wife says it’s a load of rubbish, but it’s bizarre – the picture just disappeared.’
As for the painting itself? If it’s the lost masterpiece it promises to be, its value could easily extend to seven figures. Particularly as the National Gallery will be exhibiting some Sebastiano paintings in March.
Rupert Featherstone of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge rates the painter’s talent very highly indeed.
‘Sebastiano is very well regarded, but he’s just not as famous as Michelangelo; he slightly fell under Michelangelo’s shadow, even though he was just as talented,’ he says. ‘If Michelangelo hadn’t been around he’d have been more famous – it was just bad timing, possibly.’