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Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 20:47 GMT
Canaletto paintings found in barn
Punta della Dogana by Canaletto
Punta della Dogana: Canaletto painted scenes in Venice
Two paintings valued at millions of pounds have been hanging on the wall of a conference centre, it emerged on Wednesday.

The works, by 18th Century Italian master Canaletto, were unearthed by the centre's owner in a country barn but their true value only came to light when an eagle-eyed insurer came to evaluate the contents insurance.

Until then the paintings of St Mark's Square in Venice had been hanging unprotected in the main conference room in Kings Weston House, Bristol, a Grade One-listed Georgian mansion used for conferences and weddings.

John Hardy, 42, who leases the house from the city council, said no-one noticed the paintings' great value and just accepted them as part of the general collection.

It is an absolutely excellent find for the whole country

John Hardy

"People just took them for granted and didn't notice them.

"But when we came to getting them insured by Sotheby's, they spotted them," said Mr Hardy.

"It is an absolutely excellent find for the whole country.

"We first of all thought they were copies, quite frankly.

"We couldn't believe they were real."

Kings Weston house
The paintings were found in a conference centre
The paintings are owned by a trust but were on loan to Mr Hardy who had found them in a Devon barn when he was doing some historical research into the house and the Southwell family who once owned it.

Looking for paintings for the house led him to the Hilda Inge Will Trust which mentioned two lost Canalettos and his detective work took him to the barn.

Auction house Sotheby's is now keeping the paintings in storage in London.

Although the potential value of the paintings has not been disclosed, auction house Christie's said they have sold good-condition Canalettos for up to 11m in the past.

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