It was used as a doorstop for years, propping up the entrance to a shed in Easter Ross.

But the relic discovered by a community councillor turned out to be a marble bust by one of 18th-century Europe's most fashionable sculptors - and has now been valued at £2.5 million.

The bust, which depicts late landowner and MP Sir John Gordon, was carved by Edmé Bouchardon, a French sculptor who was a precursor of Neoclassicism. It was sculpted in the early 18th century whilst the artist was resident in Rome, where he undertook private commissions for the wealthy and important of Europe who were visiting the Eternal City.

Owned by the Invergordon Common Good fund, the sculpture has been described by experts at world-famous art brokers Sotheby’s as being “brilliant in execution”.

Cromarty Firth councillor Maxine Smith discovered the bust in a shed in 1998. 

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Speaking about the find in 2014, the councillor said: "When I was on Invergordon community council, former councillor Andy Anderson told me that the provost's robes, chains and bust were somewhere and I should look for them.

"After many enquiries I asked for permission to look in a shed beside Balintore football pitch, and that's where they were. The bust was propping open the door and we couldn't lift it, it was so heavy."

Balintore, one of Easter Ross's three "seaboard villages", is about 15 miles by road from Invergordon. It is not clear why the bust had been taken there.

The bust has been in physical possession of Highland Council for over 60 years, but precise ownership details were not clarified until 2019 from Invergordon Town Council minutes.

The Invergordon Town Council minutes on 6 January 1931, held at the Inverness Archive Centre, revealed that, “the Provost, Cllr MacLeod and the Town Clerk were asked to visit Kindeace House Sale and endeavour to purchase the Bust of John Gordon said to be the founder of Invergordon and to offer up to £5 for same.”

The minutes also showed a Treasurer’s Ledger (dated 14.1.30) stating, “…paid S R Beauchamp Bust Sir John Gordon, £5.” The Town Council minutes from 3.2.30 stated, “The Council agreed to have the Sir John Gordon bust placed in the Town Hall, the position to be pointed out.”

Classed as a Highland Council asset, it was given an estimated value of around £250,000 and stored at Inverness Museum and Art Gallery for safe keeping.

In 2014, councillors were told that Sotheby's had inspected the authority's cultural assets and put a £1.4m price on the bust.

Now, Highland Council has confirmed it has been approached by an overseas private buyer, via Sotheby's, about purchasing the bust for more than £2.5 million.

Members of Highland Council’s Easter Ross Area Committee will decide what the next steps will be for the historic bust next week.

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Committee members agreed at a meeting in February last year that work be undertaken on an options appraisal and outline business case should a future decision be made to sell the bust on behalf of the Invergordon Common Good Fund.

At next Monday’s meeting, committee members will be asked to explore the potential of selling the bust and consider the assessment of the various sale options and the expert advice provided by Sotheby's.

If Members agree to explore this, the first step will be a public consultation on the proposal to dispose of the bust, in line with the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015.  This will seek the views of the wider Invergordon community.

The sale of the bust has the potential to recover a significant capital receipt for Invergordon Common Good Fund which would provide investment opportunities for income generation and rejuvenation of the Common Good fund, Highland Council said.