The Fragonard that went unnoticed

Testimony to Fragonard’s most virtuostic period, Philosopher Reading had not been seen in over two centuries. Identified by an expert auctioneer during an estate inventory in the Marne département of France, it will be sold at auction in Épernay on 26 June. SoBARNES recounts this discovery that has all the makings of a novel.

We’ve all dreamed of finding treasure at the bottom of a trunk or hidden in the attic under a pile of dust. But as we all know, it never really happens... Well actually, sometimes it does! Just imagine what went through the mind of Antoine Petit, expert at the Encheres-Champagne auctioneers in Épernay (Marne), the day he was called by solicitor to carry out an estate inventory: “In the living room of an apartment, hung high on the wall, was this painting in the shape of an oval that immediately caught my eye. The painting had no great importance to the owners, it had been in their family for generations and nobody had paid it any attention. Nevertheless, I decided to take it down and examine it more closely...”

My intuition was confirmed when I held the painting in my hands”, explains Antoine Petit. The painter was clearly skilled, using incredibly quick and precise brushstrokes”. The eagle-eyed expert noticed an old inscription, barely legible on the back of the gilded frame: Fragonard. An inscription that had gone entirely unnoticed until then!

To make certain, Antoine Petit entrusted the painting to the Paris-based Turquin Cabinet, specialising in the valuation of antique paintings. Thankfully the specialists confirmed the find and its attribution to Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806). Indeed, the painting dates from the summit of his career, around 1768-1770. A factor likely to attract major collectors and museums from around the world to bid on it. This painting with its remarkable story will be auctioned on Saturday 26 June 2021 in Épernay by Enchères Champagne and live online. With a (cautious) estimated value of €1.5M to €2M.

When asked what marked him most about his discovery, the expert auctioneer replied: “I’m glad I followed my hunch!” So are we.



Enchères Champagne auctioneers – 28, avenue du Maréchal-Foch, 51200 Epernay – France

Tél. : +33 (0)3 26 32 20 94 /





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