In a remarkable state of conservation and in its original frame, Un Philosophe lisant (A Philosopher Reading) set a French record for the master of libertinage.
Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806), Un philosophe lisant (A Philosopher Reading), oval painting, original frame, stamped Chartier, 45.8 x 57 cm/18.03 x 22.44 in.
Found on the wall of a living room in the Marne by Antoine Petit, Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s Un Philosophe lisant (A Philosopher Reading) fetched €7,686,000, nearly four times its high estimate. The head-spinning sum underscores the rarity of this undiscovered Fragonard masterpiece and makes it the second-most expensive painting by the master of gallant scenes after the famous Portrait de François-Henri, 5e duc d'Harcourt, which sold for £17,106,500 at Bonhams in London on December 5, 2013 (source: Artnet). On Saturday, June 26, the world’s greatest connoisseurs were in on the sale. After a fierce battle between seven bidders, a French collector outbid one of his countrymen to acquire the work.
Although this oval composition on its original canvas had been missing for 200 years, at least nine handwritten period sources mention the existence of paintings of old men’s heads by Fragonard. This is one in a series of “fantasy” portraits that the artist painted about 1769, in which he used an already very modern stroke with virtuoso impasto. The Épernay Philosophe could be a work described in the 1778 inventory of miniaturist Pierre Adolphe Hall’s collections. A more affordable gem accompanied this work: Italian artist Domenico Dupra’s oval portrait of Charles Edouard Stuart (82 x 66 cm/32.28 x 25.98 in), which fetched €189,100.