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French ‘lost’ old master painting was on family’s living room wall

The work by French Rococo artist Fragonard had been hanging unnoticed for decades

26 March 2021
A photo of the Fragonard painting French ‘lost’ grand master painting was on family’s living room wall The painting named "Philosophe lisant" (estimated 1768-1770), photographed in Paris, March 25 2021 (Photo by Christian Baraja)
By Hannah Thompson

A painting that had been hanging almost-unnoticed in a French family’s living room for decades has been revealed to be a 'lost' work, now estimated to be worth up to €2million.

The work, which shows a “philosopher reading”, has been confirmed as a painting by eighteenth-century master artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806). The work had been considered missing for more than 200 years.

Auction house Enchères-Champagne has confirmed that the work has been valued as worth between €1.5-2m.

The painting has been dated to the 1768-1770 period, in which Fragonard diverted from his usual feminine painting style and subjects, and instead created nine portraits on the theme of reading and literature. 

The work was confirmed as a genuine Fragonard by specialists Le Cabinet Turquin after it was found by auctioneer Antoine Petit, who had originally come to the apartment to do an inventory of its items for auction. 

He noticed that the work appeared to have a barely-visible signature reading “Fragonard” written on it.

Art expert Stéphane Pinta told Nice Matin: “Despite the accumulated dust and the yellowing varnish, the strength of his painting is still totally recognisable. The artist was at the height of his art.

“Freed from the extreme meticulousness of the rococo style, his brushstrokes are fast, confident, and very expressive.”

The work appears to have been done quickly, with paint appearing to be “modelled, sculpted; sometimes even directly with the finger”, Mr Pinta said.

Away from the influence of his first teachers, Fragonard focused on older, male subjects; in the same vein as Dutch painter Rembrandt.

Mr Pinta said: “The theme of knowledge, the study of texts and the Bible, are all themes to which Fragonard wanted to pay tribute.”

Van Gogh of Montmartre sells for €11.25m after tech issue lowers bids

It comes as a famous painting of Montmartre by Vincent Van Gogh - full name Scène de rue à Montmartre - was sold for €11.25million at Sotheby’s in Paris yesterday (March 25).

The work - which had largely been kept as part of a private French collection - was authenticated by the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam as having been from the year 1887.

The painting had reached a bid of €14m (pre-fees) earlier in the day, but computer problems forced the auction house to cancel that, and reopen the sale. A bidding war between one buyer in Hong Kong and another in London pushed the final price to €11.25m, or €13,091,250 in total, including fees.

The auction also included works by Pissarro, Renoir, Picabia and Degas.

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