Long-lost Fragonard painting resurfaces in France

Issued on: 25/03/2021 – 19:52Modified: 25/03/2021 – 19:50

Paris (AFP)

A painting by Rococo master Jean-Honore Fragonard, which has not been on view for over two centuries, was discovered in eastern France and is due to go on sale in June, the auction house that manages the sale said Thursday.

The small oval portrait of a “philosopher’s reading” was discovered high up on a wall in a house by an expert from the Encheres Champagne auctioneers in Epernay who had been commissioned with an inventory of the estate.

The family had paid no heed to the painting for years, but the expert noticed a barely legible inscription of the artist’s name on the back of its gilded frame.

“Despite the layers of dust and the yellowed varnish, the energy of his painting remains perfectly recognizable,” said Stephane Pinta from the Turquin Expertise in Paris, who authenticated the work.

In contrast to the sensual pastel scenes that secured Fragonard’s place in the pantheon of 18th-century masters, the muted depiction of the philosopher flipping through his texts was one of only a handful of aged men he portrayed.

It dates from 1768-1770 when Fragonard went beyond his quirkier scenes of stolen kisses in gardens to explore more contemplative subjects that nonetheless increased the joy of painting.

It also seems to have been executed with the artist’s typical virtuosity and speed, said Pinta: “The paint appears to have been shaped or molded, sometimes even applied directly with a finger.”

“The artist has reached the peak of his talent. Freed from the extreme trifles of the Rococo style, his brushstrokes are fast, precise and incredibly expressive,” he said.

Its value was estimated at 1.5 to two million euros ($ 1.8 to 2.4 million) for a sale in Epernay on June 26.

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