LONDON, Nov 22 (Reuters) An unknown and much abused 17th century painting that shows the earliest known view of the front of the Flemish artist Rubens' house in Antwerp is just one of the art gems discovered in new research unveiled.
Starting in 2004, 25 researchers visited 200 museums and art galleries across Britain recording the history and existence -- in some cases for the first time -- of some 8,000 European works of art from before 1900.
Some of the highlights of their discoveries went on show at London's National Gallery yesterday, while all 8,000 form a free virtual art gallery on the Internet at http://vads.ahds.ac.uk/collections/NIRP/index.php.
''Through this project small galleries around the country have been able to rediscover their collections,'' project leader Susan Foister told reporters visiting the small exhibition.
''For many of the paintings there was simply no documentation in the galleries' files, so they were not put on show and therefore in effect lost,'' she added.
The Rubenshuis painting is an outstanding example, having hung for years, slashed and defaced in a youth detention centre in Buckinghamshire, southern England, before passing unrecognised to the local gallery in the 1980s.
It was only when a researcher from the National Inventory Research Project visited the gallery and saw the partially restored painting that the truth began to unfold.
The picture by Anton Gunther Gheringh is the earliest known depiction of the famous house, the frontage of which was restored using designs seen in a later etching.
Other paintings among the gems in the show include a picture of woman mounting a barricade with a flag during a battle in revolutionary France that was believed to be allegorical but has now been found to be a depiction of an actual event.
Curator Nancy Ireson said the woman was killed in the fighting.
Another painting shows droves of animals leaving the Ark on Mount Ararat after the biblical floodwaters recede -- and that was all that was known about it by the gallery that holds it in Falmouth on the English south coast.
Research identified it as almost identical to a much larger and fully documented version by the artist Filippo Palizzi held by Naples' Museo del Capodimonte, and it is now thought to have been a study for the larger work.
''The research has unearthed these and many other treasures, and the database is the first time many of these paintings have been accessible to the public,'' Foister said, noting that all images should be on the database early next year.
REUTERS TB BST0426