Fragonard's d'Harcourt fantasy portrait auctions for record $27.9m

Jean-Honore Fragonard's The Portrait of Francois-Henri d'Harcourt, one of his renowned fantasy portraits, has sold for a record sum at Bonhams in London.

Fragonard the portrait of francois-henri d'harcourt
Fragonard's career flourished during France's Ancien Regime, but his reputation lessened following the revolution and he eventually died in poverty

The painting sold from the collection of the late Dr Gustav Rau, a prominent art collector and philanthropist. With profits to benefit UNICEF, the piece sold for £17.1m ($27.9m) on December 5, making a 222.6% increase on the previous record for the artist's work of £5.3m, set in 1999.

The sale price makes The Portrait of Francois-Henri d'Harcourt the most valuable old master painting to have sold at auction this year.

"The Portrait of François-Henri d'Harcourt is one of the paintings on which Fragonard's reputation as an artistic genius rests," commented Bonhams' head of pictures, Caroline Oliphant.

"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."

Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806) was a French artist who worked in the late rococo style, creating both genre paintings and portraits. One of the most prolific and well-respected painters of his time, his fantasy portraits are some of the most sought after examples of his work.

Fragonard fantasy portrait Inspiration
Another of Fragonard's fantasy portraits, this time titled simply Inspiration, with the sitter - usually a friend of the artist - unidentified

The so-called fantasy portraits are three-quarter length studies that took Fragonard as little as an hour each to complete, utilising the style then known as "swordplay of the brush". The present work is remarkable as, unlike others in the series, we can identify its sitter.

Only two of the 15 known fantasy portraits remain in private hands. The present work will now be displayed at the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Francois-Henri d'Harcourt, seen here in all his pomp and splendour, was governor of Normandy and Louis XVIII's ambassador to England.

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