Lady Anne Clifford is still celebrated as a campaigner for women's rights

A lost, original portrait of Lady Anne Clifford, one of the first English aristocrats to demand equal land rights with men during a 17th-century legal struggle, is to be displayed at a major art fair in the Netherlands next month.

Born in Skipton in North Yorkshire in 1590, Lady Anne was the only surviving child of George Clifford, the third Earl of Cumberland, and she is still celebrated today as a crusading figure; conferences in Hanover this spring and this summer at Jane Austen's former home, Chawton House, are to examine her life and writings, while a new edition of her journal, The Great Book of Record, is planned for next year.

The rediscovered portrait of Anne, by then married to her first husband, the Earl of Dorset, was found in private ownership abroad by Mark Weiss, an art dealer and portraiture expert. Painted in 1618 by the fashionable Stuart artist, William Larkin, it shows Anne at the age of 28 in mourning dress. The portrait is mentioned in her diary as a gift for her cousin Margaret Hall in Lincolnshire, possibly as a way of marking the death of a baby. The painting is now to go under the hammer at the prestigious annual fine art fair in Maastricht, where it is expected to sell for around £350,000.

Although there is a similar portrait at Knole, in Kent, art historians have long suspected that it was not the one referred to in Anne's diaries.

"The rediscovery of this strong and telling portrait, previously thought lost, is a significant addition to the small extant oeuvre of William Larkin and likewise to the iconography of Lady Anne Clifford, who is today revered by feminists as an early exponent of women's rights," said Weiss.

The Huddersfield University academic, Dr Jessica Malay, is intrigued by Weiss's find. "It is well known that Anne Clifford had many copies of her portraits which she sent out to her friends and family," said Malay, who is editing the journal in which Clifford argues the case for women's inheritance rights. "Between 1670 and 1675 the surviving accounts show that she had 16 copies of her various portraits made, to which she noted: 'I intend to give away amongst my friends.' I'm assuming the original by Larkin must have remained in a branch of her family."

Lady Anne's battle for status began when her father died in 1605. Despite a royal agreement dating back to the 14th century, his estates went to his brother and not to his only direct descendant, Anne. Her long inheritance struggle ended in victory in 1643, following the deaths of her uncle and his son, when Anne then promptly rebuffed the claim that women could not succeed to baronies. She eventually become the Baroness Clifford of Westmorland and Vecsey in her own right.

Once she had restored her family heritage, she set about rebuilding her castles at Skipton, Appleby, Pendragon, Brough and Brougham. As a devout Christian, she also built and restored churches and almshouses and served as high sheriff of Westmorland from 1653 to 1676. She died at Brougham Castle at the age of 86, in the room where her father had been born. Her tomb is in St Lawrence's church, Appleby-in-Westmorland.

© Guardian News and Media 2013

[Image by Lisby 1 via Flickr Creative Commons]