Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s La Jeune Fille au Chapeau.
Photo: Courtesy of Drouot

Auction of the Week: A Recently Rediscovered Jean-Honoré Fragonard Work Fetches $3.5 Million

Sold by Drouot, the oval-framed portrait dates to the 1770s and features the French Rococo painter’s famous swirling brushstrokes

A recently rediscovered work by the French Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard sold at a Paris auction for $3.5 million—a whopping four times its presale estimate. La Jeune Fille au Chapeau, dating to 1770–75, was found during an inventory of a family collection and was estimated to fetch just $440,000–$660,000 when it hit the auction block at Drouot on December 21, 2023.

The young woman in the painting is depicted in a pink-trimmed, wide-brimmed hat that casts a flirtatious shadow over half of her smiling face. The portrait is likely not representative of a specific person, but instead draws from the popular “fantasy figures” genre of the time.

Fragonard’s so-called furioso painting style “is very easily recognizable” in this painting, according to Stéphane Pinta, an expert at the French authentication firm Turquin, which authenticated the painting. The painting’s broad and brisk brushwork is similar to another 1769 work by Fragonard that is kept in the Musée du Louvre, which bears the inscription “painted in one hour’s time.” An inscription on the back of La Jeune Fille au Chapeau linked the painting to Fragonard, according to Pinta.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s La Jeune Fille au Chapeau. Photo: Courtesy of Drouot

The portrait’s oval frame is also telling. It’s estimated that nearly one in six paintings by Fragonard was executed in this format, which was very trendy in the 18th century and was also used frequently by contemporaries such as Jean-Antoine Watteau, Jean-Siméon Chardin, and François Boucher.

After further investigation, the work is believed to have been kept in the collection of Dominique Magaud in the 18th century thanks to another recently rediscovered oval-shaped work by the artist, Philosophe Lisant, which was also determined to be from the same collection. It’s thought that the two paintings remained in the Magaud collection until the early 20th century, when they were divided up between different branches of the family.

“We did genealogical research and found a common ancestor between the two families who turns out to be Dominique Magaud,” Pinta said. Magaud, who lived from 1722 to 1806, was a high-ranking state official, acting as deputy to the Estates-General, justice of the peace and prosecutor for the king, and deputy of Puy de Dôme.

In a June 2021 auction held in Épernay, France, Philosophe Lisant sold for over $9 million. Like La Jeune Fille au Chapeau, the final price also represented four times its original estimate.

Fragonard’s current auction record of $23.7 million was set in 2013, when his Portrait of François-Henri, 5th duc d’Harcourt sold at a Bonhams Old Masters sale in London.

Cover: Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s La Jeune Fille au Chapeau.
Photo: Courtesy of Drouot


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