LONDON – As Frederic Lord Leighton’s famous work Flaming June draws the crowds at New York’s Frick Collection, where it is currently enjoying an extended loan, in London the only known head study for this 19th-century masterpiece sold to an American private collector for £167,000, an auction record for a work on paper by the artist and four times over the pre-sale low estimate.

Sir Frederic Leighton’s Study for Flaming June, circa 1895. Estimate £40,000–60,000. Sold for £167,000.

Identified from an illustration in the Magazine of Art from 1895, the drawing was rediscovered hanging discreetly on a bedroom wall at West Horsley Place, the 400-acre Surrey estate that was home to the late Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe, whose grandfather probably purchased it from Leighton’s studio after the artist’s death.

Simon Toll, the specialist who made the discovery, observed: "I found the drawing hanging behind the door in Lady Roxburghe's bedroom at West Horsley Place and immediately realised I was looking at the original of the drawing that is illustrated in the Magazine of Art. This head study for the painting is the last piece of the jigsaw in terms of the preparatory work Leighton undertook before starting on the big oil painting. It was a thrilling find, one of the most heart-stopping moments in my career."