LONDON (Reuters) - The public have not laid eyes on the heavenly depiction of "The Seraph's Watch" for over a century and many people thought the painting was lost.
But now the work by pre-Raphaelite British artist Ford Madox Brown, depicting the serene gaze of two angels before a crown of thorns, will be exhibited at Manchester Art Gallery in northern England next month.
Completed in 1847, The Seraph's Watch was last displayed publicly in London in 1896, at which point the painting disappeared - and was even feared lost - until it was rediscovered in a private collection two years ago by the exhibition's curator, Julian Treuherz.
"When I saw the painting I knew instantly what it was. It had been regarded as lost but we all knew what it looked like from the copy made by Madox Brown's pupil, Dante Gabriel Rossetti," Treuherz, an expert in Victorian art, told Reuters.
"The amazing thing was that it was absolutely fresh. It had not suffered in any way and was in fantastic condition, which is important because Madox Brown was fond of repainting his earlier works in later styles," he said.
The copy of the piece by Madox Brown's pupil and one of the principle members of the pre-Raphaelite movement, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, sold for 100,000 pounds at auction in 2006.
Rossetti had sent Madox Brown a gushing letter explaining how much he admired his work and asking for lessons. The first task set by his tutor was to copy The Seraph's Watch, Treuherz said.
The exhibition -- the first major display of Madox Brown's work in nearly 50 years -- brings together 140 works from public and private collections, including the artist's masterpieces Work and The Last of England.
The latter painting depicts a couple taking their last look at the English coast as they emigrate to Australia. The painting contains a self portrait of Madox Brown as the man, and his own wife, Elizabeth, is painted as the woman.
The works represent a break in the tradition of Victorian art as they feature social and political themes. This was unusual for 19th century work, when aspects of everyday life were considered ugly and unsuitable material for artists to depict, Treuherz said.
"Ford Madox Brown was different because his two paintings - Work and The Last of England - are incredibly realistic in their detailed depiction, not only of contemporary dress, but also of social problems of the time, such as class distinctions," he said.
The exhibition "Ford Madox Brown: Pre-Raphaelite Pioneer," which begins Sept 24, aims to explore how the artist's rebellion against traditionally taught methods led to a completely radical new style.
Editing by Paul Casciato