The Interesting Student by Marguerite Gérard and Jean-Honoré Fragonard was pre-empted by the Louvre at the Ribes sale at Sotheby’s Paris for €850,000 (£722,500).

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It took a lengthy process of rehabilitation, aided by the publication in March 2019 of a book on the artist by Carole Blumenfeld, before she found her place in the history of French 18th and early 19th century painting.

Fragonard assist

Gérard was only 26 when she painted the picture above. The Interesting Student proved to be one of the star lots of the Ribes sale at Sotheby’s Paris on December 11.

Fragonard is thought to have assisted with these early works, supplying one or more details – in this case the mischievous white cat teasing the dog lying on a stool – and compositional advice.

A sphere of polished steel placed on the ground on top of a crumpled print acts as a mirror in the painting, reflecting an image of the rest of the room.

In the reflection are four figures including Gérard herself, sitting at her easel with her mentor behind her.

The remaining two figures have been identified as the artist’s sister, Marie Anne Fragonard, and a figure who may be the engraver Géraud Vidal (1742-1801).

Vidal’s engraving of the picture published in 1787 gives the work its title and is dedicated to the sitter, Anne Louise Chéreau, herself from a family of engravers and print publishers.

The 2ft 2in x 22in (65 x 55cm) oil was on the market for the first time in over two centuries.

First owned by Joseph François Xavier Le Pestre, Comte de Seneffe de Turnhout, it was seized by the revolutionary authorities in 1794 and sold at auction in 1803 when it was bought by an ancestor of the Count and Countess of Ribes for Fr505.

Buying trend

Such a key work in the oeuvre of an important female artist was, in the current climate, an obvious target for institutional interest. After bidding at Sotheby’s reached a double-estimate €850,000 (£722,500), the picture was pre-empted by the Louvre.