A major work by the 18th century French artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Portrait of François-Henri dHarcourt, sold for £17,106,50 this evening (5 December) setting a world record price for the artist at auction. (The previous record was £5,300,000 for a painting sold in London in 1999). It is also the highest price for an Old Master Painting sold at auction anywhere in the world this year.
The painting was the leading work in the sale of paintings and sculpture from the renowned collection of the German philanthropist, the late Dr Gustav Rau which raised more than £19 million.
The proceeds will be used to benefit the Foundation of the German Committee for UNICEF for the children of the world.
Director of Old Master Paintings, Andrew McKenzie, said, The Portrait of François-Henri dHarcourt is one of the paintings on which Fragonards reputation as an artistic genius rests. It is impossible to overstate its cultural and artistic significance. Handling this great painting for sale was a huge privilege and a landmark in the history of the art market.
Group Head of Pictures, Caroline Oliphant, said: We were thrilled to do so well for UNICEF. It was a real pleasure to work with this collection, particularly the Fragonard, over the past months.
One of Fragonards famous 15 fantasy portraits, The Portrait of François-Henri dHarcourt was the most significant of the artists works to have appeared on the market for many years. Only two other fantasy portraits remain in private hands making this painting rarer than portraits by Frans Hals, Joshua Reynolds or even Rembrandt.
Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) was a master of genre painting and a leading exponent of the Rococo style of which The Swing in the Wallace Collection in London is probably the best known example. In great demand as a portraitist in the dying days of the Ancien Regime, Fragonard fell on hard times after the French Revolution and although he continued to live in France he died in obscurity and poverty.
Fragonards fantasy portraits often depicting friends and acquaintances - were painted quickly with bold, fluid brush work which anticipated the Impressionists in bravura and technique. This style was referred to by some contemporaries as the artists, swordplay of the brush. The Portrait of François-Henri dHarcourt is unusual among Fragonards fantasy portraits because the subject is identified. Many of the other portraits are personifications of the arts rather than representations of named individuals.
Among the other outstanding works in the sale were:
a 15h century depiction of the Crucifixion by an unknown German artist sold for £1,082,500
Le grand noyer à lHermitage by Camille Pissarro was sold for £314,500 against an estimate of £200,000-300,000.