Saturday, November 17, 2007


Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) was Boucher's star pupil. His figures moves with a grace that links him with Tiepolo whose work he admired. He painted with a breadth and spontaneity reminiscent of Rubens. But Fragonard had the misfortune to outlive his era : his pictures became outmoded as the French Revolution approached. After 1789, he was reduced to poverty, supported ironically by Jacques Louis David who recognized his achievements and who made a fortune under the Napoleonic era.

Fragonard died virtually forgotten in they heyday of this Imperial era. This painting -whose full title is Psyche showing her sisters her gifts from Cupid- too had been forgotten by the public and the art dealers all together and when it was rediscovered in the ex-Rothschild House of the 7th Earl of Rosebery, Mentmore Towers, it was attributed as "The Toilet of Venus" by the French painter Carle van Loo ( 1705-1765). When the whole collections of Mentmore Towers went for sale, an expert from Christie's thought it could be attributed to Boucher which was quite a good bet by the way.

But when he checked on the Boucher's catalogue he did not find any mention of such a picture : so it was put on auction as attributed to van Loo and the auction house bought it in for
$8,800. After the sale, Christie's expert thought that the next possibility was Fragonard as he had worked 5 years in the studio of Boucher. The Wildenstein catalogue on Fragonard mentioned that he had painted a picture of this subject as a pupil but that it was "an untraced work."

After further expertise with the National Gallery London, Christie's resold it in 1978 for almost £ 500,000 ($850,000). It is now the property of the National Gallery which could have bought it a year earlier for 8,800 quid.

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