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Christie's January sale "The Art of France" celebrates 18th century French paintings
Jean-Honoré Fragonard (Grasse 1732-1806 Paris), The Good Mother. Oil on canvas, oval, 19¼ x 15 3/8 in. (48.9 x 39.2 cm.). Est: $5,000,000-7,000,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2012.
NEW YORK, N.Y.- Following the sale of Old Master Paintings on January 25, 2012 at 2pm, Christie’s will hold a specialized sale, The Art of France, dedicated to 18th century French paintings including a rich selection of works by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, among others. That same afternoon, at 5pm, Christie’s will present a sale of Wines of France.

Leading the sale is one of the most beautiful of Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s (Grasse 1732–1806 Paris) small-scale domestic scenes, The Good Mother (estimate: $5-7 million). This oval-shaped painting pairs its harmonious subject with a composition that envelops the happy family in the natural yet domesticated surroundings of a verdant park with banks of hollyhocks and summer flowers, sparkling Mediterranean light and an arching bower. Similar in sensibility and technique to Fragonard’s famous suite of paintings The Progress of Love (The Frick Collection), the painting offered for sale is the prime version of a subject that was a particular success for the artist.

A delightful pair of paintings offered by Jean-Honoré Fragonard is Le Jour (Day) and La Nuit (Night) (estimate: $2-3 million). This pair of decorative paintings, depicting a flight of putti playing in the sky by day and bedding down in the clouds at night, combines the charmed virtuosity of Fragonard’s mythological vein with the expansiveness of his best-known work, with each panel measuring almost five feet in width. Last exhibited to the public in 1953, the works are emerging from the private collection in which they have been held for more than half a century.

Another highlight from Jean-Honoré Fragonard, reflecting the influence of Rembrandt, is the painting Head of an old man (estimate: $300,000-500,000). An exceptional work by the Rococo master which exhibits the influence of 17th century Dutch painting that Fragonard absorbed early in his career, this moody studio portrait of a simply dressed man, his characterful face turned to one side and half caught in shadow, was for many years attributed to Rembrandt or one of his followers.

Louis-Léopold Boilly’s (La Bassee 1761–1845 Paris) whimsical painting, A trompe-l’oeil with a cat and a wooden log through a canvas, fish hanging from the stretcher, is an excellent example of the artist’s skill (estimate: $150,000-250,000). In the late 18th century, trompe-l’oeil painting thrived in Flanders and the provincial centers of northern France where Boilly was born, far from the influence of Paris and the Royal Academy with their elevated and idealistic expectations of painting. To Boilly, however, trompe-l’oeil was not a low genre but the vehicle for sophisticated humor, intellectual conundrums and spectacular virtuosity. This canvas is one of the artist’s wittiest and most captivating.

A delightful pair of paintings by François Boucher (Paris 1703–1770) is offered in the sale, The Little Gardener and The Little Shepherdess (estimate: $400,000-600,000). The paintings served as the models for two chair back patterns that were woven at the Gobelins tapestry works as part of the “Country Children” series of designs.

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