It is a work that no one had paid attention to for over two centuries. On June 26, the Champagne d’Epernay auction house is auctioning Reading philosopher, an oval-format canvas by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), kept in a French aristocratic family who had forgotten the author, like the value. Authenticated by the cabinet of expertise in ancient art Eric Turquin, it is estimated, at the very least, at 1.5 million euros.
“People passed by her side without recognizing her”, wonders Eric Turquin, whose collaborator Stéphane Pinta was able to spot, behind the yellowed varnish, the virtuosity of the French master, his sense of flight particularly noticeable in the folds of the garment. Although the dealer Georges Wildenstein granted it in 1960 an entry in his catalog of the painted works of Fragonard, from generation to generation, it was confused with a painting owned by the Kunsthalle in Hamburg.
How does the work of one of the most recognized painters of the 18th centurye century thus disappeared from radar? “Between 1910 and 1960, Fragonard was no longer worth anything, we took its lightness for ease. When things lose their value, they disappear ”, explains Eric Turquin. Today, however, this painting fascinates the crowds. “It is a pure product of the Enlightenment, we find the lightness of Gluck and Mozart. And the spirit of the encyclopedists: we do not see someone who reads but who reflects on a text ”, details the expert, as lyrical as he is inexhaustible.
Thrill of novelty
Practicing no less than 15,000 expertises per year, Eric Turquin is used to these media rediscoveries, thanks to a team made up in particular of former museum curators.
It was he who had spotted in a kitchen in Compiègne a small panel by Cimabue representing the mocked Christ, which its owners took for a modest Russian icon. The work was part of a dismembered diptych, two other scenes of which are in the Frick Collection, New York, and the National Gallery, London.
Duly reassigned to the Italian painter of the 13th centurye century, the work landed 24 million euros in Senlis, the highest auction in France in 2019. In addition to the rarity of this pre-Renaissance master, the thrill of novelty weighed in the price.
Eric Turquin thus figures at 10% the added value linked to rediscovery. “If the Cimabue went on sale tomorrow, it would not necessarily have the same price, he admits. It’s like a soufflé: a heated painting does not rise as high. ” Specialist at Christie’s, Pierre Etienne, who cut his teeth at Eric Turquin, approves: “Ancient art lovers love the idea of the treasure hidden under a blanket or covered under the dust of an attic. It may seem paradoxical, but collectors want new works by an artist who died three hundred years ago. “
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