A rediscovered painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard sold at auction for €7.7 million ($9.2 million) with buyer’s premium at the Enchères Champagne auction house on Saturday in Épernay, France. The result was more than three times its $2.4 million high estimate.
At Saturday’s auction, two private collectors and a London-based dealer competed for the work. The winning bidder was not revealed by the house.
Philosopher Reading (ca. 1768–70), an oval-shaped painting depicting a bearded scholar, was once owned by a French family that hung it in a Paris apartment. Up until recently, the Marne-based family believed the work was a minor antique that had been passed down through generations.
When auctioneer Antoine Petit was hired to appraise the family’s estate for inheritance tax purposes, he discovered the painting and suspected that it should be attributed to the Rococo master. Outside experts later confirmed the work was indeed painted by Fragonard, as the artist’s signature was found on the reverse of the painting’s frame.
One expert who authenticated the work, Stéphane Pinta, of the firm Turquin in Paris, told the Agence France-Presse that Fragonard had executed the work with his signature speed. “The paint seems to be moulded or sculpted, at times even applied directly with a finger,” he said. “Freed from the extreme minutia of the Rococo style, his brush strokes are quick, precise and incredibly expressive.”
Through further provenance research, experts found that the painting was formerly owned by Fragonard’s friend Pierre Adolph Hall at the end of the 18th century and had been lost after it was sold at auction in 1796.
The painting is now the third-most expensive work by Fragonard ever sold at auction. The artist’s current record, £17.1 million ($23.7 million), was set in 2013 when his Portrait of François-Henri, 5th duc d’Harcourt sold during a Bonhams Old Masters sale in London.