The previously unknown painting of fruit, dead game and a grey parrot in a stone niche – one of the finest early 18th century French still lifes on the market in recent memory – had been found earlier this year in the south of France. It had been in the same family for several generations.
On September 19, auctioneer Antoine Briscadieu fielded bids from five serious bidders (most of them French) for around four minutes before bringing down the hammer.
The final price was tenfold the estimate of €150,000- 200,000 and over double the previous high for the artist.
Eric Turquin of Old Master picture specialists Cabinet Turquin, cataloguers for Briscadieu-Bordeaux, said the price (€2.03m including premium) ref lected the picture’s status as “a true masterpiece”.
The 3ft 5in x 2ft 9in (1.02m x 83cm) oil on canvas is signed and dated 1716 – a time when Desportes was working for the court of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, regent of France from 1715-23.
Turquin believed it was commissioned for his new apartments (the subject matter would have suited a keen huntsman) or those of his daughter Marie Louise whose marriage to Charles, Duke of Berry, the youngest son of the Grand Dauphin, is perhaps referenced by the dolphin depicted in the fountain niche.
The opulent objects may record actual pieces owned by the patron: the silver-gilt mounts to the Chinese blue and white bowl are in the Régence style.
The previous high for Desportes was realised by a pair of tondos of exotic birds and animals sold at Sotheby’s New York in 1995 for $700,000. More recently in 2019 a still life of game birds, apricots and plums with a silver-gilt ewer and a tureen dated 1730 sold at Christie’s New York for $260,000.