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The sale is particularly rich in French 17th century works – to the extent, says Artcurial’s specialist director Matthieu Fournier, that the auctioneers have constructed the catalogue “to create an opening ‘sale’ of 21 lots centred around the idea of chef d’oeuvres of French production from the 17th century: painting, drawings and sculpture”.

Among them, adds Fournier, are “a lot of discoveries”, fresh-to-the-market works by major names.

These include no fewer than four pastel studies, three of them by Simon Vouet (1590-1649), painter to Louis XIII, and one by Charles Le Brun (1619-90).

Vouet pastels

The Vouet pastels which open the sale were part of two collections of drawings preserved in bindings bearing the Royal Arms. These were prepared for Louis XIII but remained with the artist and were part of his inventory after his death.

In the early 19th century these ensembles entered the collection of Camille de Tournon Comte de Simiane (1778-1833) and have been in his family ever since.

The trio comprises a portrait of the poet Neuf-Germain in later life, shown wearing a fur-collared coat and holding a pair of gloves (estimate €200,000-300,000) and two hitherto unpublished works.

One is a study of a small dog, probably a domestic pet rather than a working animal (estimate €100,000- 150,000). The other, estimated at €150,000-200,000, is a portrait of a curly haired, moustachioed artist proudly holding a painting. All are to feature in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Vouet’s work.

“The auctioneers have constructed their catalogue to create an ‘opening’ sale of chef d’oeuvres of French production from the 17th century

The Le Brun is another rediscovery. The artist’s pastel portrait of the writer Charles Perrault (who was famous as the first creator of the fairy tale) dates from 1665.

It was mentioned in the author’s inventory in 1672 but knowledge of its whereabouts was then lost.

Artcurial has researched its provenance, tracing it back to 1900. Acquired by the Pourtales family in the early years of the 20th century, it remained with them since.

Perrault and Le Brun both worked at the court of Louis XIV and collaborated on decorative programmes for the Sun King. The pastel shows Perrault with a long curled coiffure and a lace jabot and is estimated at €70,000-100,000.

Before the sale, Artcurial is holding two related lectures by authorities in their respective fields.

On March 18 Barabara Brejon de Lavergnée will talk on Vouet and the following day Patricia Bouchenot Dechin will discuss Perrault, on whom she has just published a biography.