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Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Sappho inspired by Cupid estimated at £800,000-1,200,000. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- Sappho inspired by Cupid, a sensual work by the French 17th century Master, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, is to be sold at Bonhams Old Master Paintings Sale in London on 9 July. It is estimated at £800,000-1,200,000. 

The painting is known informally as the Portanova Sappho to recognise its previous ownership by the socialite couple Sandra and Ricky di Portanova but also to distinguish it from Fragonard’s other works on the same theme. It was executed around 1780, when the painter moved away from the Rococo style with which he had established his early reputation and started to experiment with Neoclassicism. Sappho inspired by Cupid clearly struck a chord with art collectors because Fragonard repeated the composition many times and painted other allegorical works with a romantic theme – The Invocation to Love, The Fountain of Love and The Sacrifice of the Rose, for example, - again, in several versions. Of the known versions of Sappho inspired by Cupid, the painting in the Bonhams sale is regarded as the highest in quality. 

The poet Sappho, born around 600 BCE, lived on the island of Lesbos in the Aegean Sea. She was famed throughout antiquity for her uninhibited approach to love as well as for the quality of her poetry, of which only fragments have survived. Her work celebrated beauty through love and Fragonard’s painting depicts the figure of Cupid in his traditional guise of a chubby young boy embracing and inspiring the classically perfect, but recognisably human, figure of the poetess. The modern identification of Sappho as a writer of specifically lesbian poetry would almost certainly have been unfamiliar to Fragonard - the terms lesbian and Sapphic were not coined until the last third of the 19th century- and there is no suggestion of this in the image. 

In December 2013, Bonhams set a new world record price for a painting by Fragonard when it sold The Portrait of François-Henri d’Harcourt for £17.1m.