La Fontaine would surely have found a moral in this story. This precious piece for bibliophiles is presented as a thick album of 138 drawings with detailed landscapes, framed by a blue outline, each illustrating one of the famous stories of the French fabulist and poet Jean de La Fontaine, such as “The Frog who wants get as big as the Ox”, “The Grasshopper and the Ant” or “The Raven and the Fox”.
Painter to the court of France under Louis XV, Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686-1755) had made them in the early 1730s with brush and black ink, but they were not immediately assembled.
It is the “only intact volume of illustrations by Oudry for La Fontaine”, explained to AFP Stijn Alsteen, international manager of old drawings at Christie’s, specifying that a second volume had existed but was ” dismembered” and dispersed between collections and museums.
Jean-Baptiste Oudry is considered one of the best illustrators of La Fontaine’s fables, along with Gustave Doré and Grandville, and his drawings can be seen in the luxurious Diane de Selliers editions in France.
The album, which had been sold at Sotheby’s in 1996 for 550,000 British pounds, the equivalent of more than 850,000 dollars at the time, was part of the JE Safra collection, of which 78 works from the 17th to 19th centuries have sold for $18.5 million on Wednesday in New York. The piece was estimated between 1.5 and 2.5 million dollars by Christie’s, which did not immediately give information on the buyer.
Last May, Christie’s sold a drawing by Michelangelo, “Young Naked Man” (after Masaccio), in Paris for 23 million euros.