A PAINTING picked up at a car boot sale for £230 could actually prove to be by Pablo Picasso and worth millions.

Keen antiques collector Philip Stapleton, from Crawley, bought the painting at the car boot sale in West Sussex.

After initially thinking it was a fake, Philip left the artwork in his bedroom for six months before deciding to take it to an auction house.

It was only when he left it with the team at the Brighton and Hove Auction Rooms, in Warren Road, that he was told it might be the real deal.

The painting, an early version of Pablo Picasso’s Seated Bather, has all the signs of being an authentic piece.

And if real it could fetch more than one million pounds.

Philip is now on tenterhooks to see what the artwork will fetch, especially if it is proven to be by one of the world’s greatest and most revered artists.

He said: “I’ve been collecting antiques for a few years, but I rarely pick up artwork.

“I just had a good feeling about it. At first it looked like a fake.

“I picked it up and looked at the back and there was an inscription at the bottom that interested me. Even if it was a fake I thought it was worth buying.

“But now everything seems to add up to it being real.”

Despite the relatively high price tag of the painting, Philip is hoping his purchase will pay handsome dividends.

He said: “It could be phenomenal.

“Five thousand pounds is a lot of money to me, I’d be happy with that.

“It could bomb out on the day or go for far more.”

It is believed the painting was produced between 1915 and 1918.

The iconic painter unveiled Seated Bather in 1930, but staff at the auction house believe this is an early draft of the artwork and appears to be genuine.

The staff at the Brighton and Hove Auction Rooms researched the painting and are confident it is an authentic Picasso.

Rosie May, of the Brighton and Hove Auction Rooms, said: “On the back it has the signature.

“If it’s just a fake and has been written on recently then if you sand it, it will come off.

“You can see someone has already tried that and it hasn’t come off.”

But the signature is not the only potential mark of authenticity the painting possesses.

There is also a message on the back to Roland Penrose, a man who lived in Chiddingly, East Sussex, and was a close friend of Picasso.

The work of art is also signed off as belonging to the P Picasso Collection, the way Picasso authenticated some of his early work.

The auction house said that because it is not their property they have not brought in anyone to verify the painting, but insist it looks remarkably genuine.

Rosie said: “There’s too much proof to dismiss.

“People who are Picasso collectors will take a punt on it in case it is. At its peak it could go for more than one million pounds or more.”

It is the faded message on the back to Roland Penrose that is the biggest link to the painting’s authenticity, and also provides links to Sussex.

In 1950, Pablo Picasso visited Farleys House at Chiddingly.

At the time it was the home of Surrealist photographer and Vogue model Lee Miller, her husband Roland Penrose, the Surrealist painter and biographer of Picasso, and their son Antony.

It became a meeting place for artists including their friends Picasso, Max Ernst and Man Ray. It is believed that Picasso painted this early piece, before changing it for the 1930 released artwork, and then gifted it to Roland.

Pablo Picasso was born in 1881 in Malaga, Spain.

The work that brought him into the public eye was 1907’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Other famous Picasso works include The Weeping woman (1937) and Guernica (1937).

Picasso died in France in 1973. His work is heralded around the world and sells for big money.