Work of the Week: Jean-Baptiste Oudry’s ‘Portrait of a Poodle’

The Rococo painting came from the eclectic collection of the late Count Manfredi della Gherardesca.

Circle of Jean-Baptise Oudry, Portrait of a Poodle (1686–1755). Courtesy of Dreweatts.

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A punchy portrait of a poodle from the circle of the French Rococo painter, illustrator, and tapestry designer Jean-Baptiste Oudry was one of the top lots of Dreweatts’ “Alchemy of Design” sale on April 24. Drawn from the private collection of the late Count Manfredi della Gherardesca, the auction reflected the eclectic taste of the celebrated curator, collector, dealer, and designer.  

Della Gherardesca collected everything from Belgian chocolate pots—at least 50 of them—to contemporary works by Jeff Koons, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Lorna Simpson. Notoriously buying from car boot sales as often as blue-chip galleries, he picked up this pup painting from Sotheby’s New York in 1997.  

Oudry and his workshop became increasingly well known in the mid-18th century for animal scenes among wealthy families seeking pet portraits and hunting pictures. A hunter this hound is not. The artist deftly captures the poodle’s pristine white coat that has been precisely shaved to feature fur cuffs around the legs and a prodigious pom-pom tail. The work hammered at £16,000, selling to a U.K. buyer for £20,160, around $25,000, including fees. That price more than doubled its high estimate of £8,000 ($10,000).  

Christie’s holds the auction record for Oudry, which was set at $2.7 million last year for the sale of an illustration from the Fables of Jean de La Fontaine, according to the Artnet Price Database. 

A man identified as Manfredi della Gherardesca sits in a chair in front of fireplace. On the fireplace is a porcelain parrot.

Count Manfredi della Gherardesca.

Della Gherardesca, an ex-gallery owner, sometime-art advisor for Citibank, and former chairman of Sotheby’s Italy, was a colorful figure within the European socialite-cum-art scene. He had a “200 percent Italian-ness” about him, according to the London dealer Ben Brown, which makes sense given that his family name is so old it is mentioned in Dante’s Inferno. Friend Mick Jagger, front man of the Rolling Stones, claimed the count found joy in the simple act of discovery, “be it places, people, or art.”  

Della Gherardesca died unexpectedly in 2022, aged 60, at his home in Italy, leaving his ex-wife, Princess Maria-Theodora Loewenstein, and two children with the monumental task of sorting through his maximalist collection, only a portion of which appeared in Dreweatts’ 400-lot sale. The auction brought in a combined £1.6 million ($2 million). Other top lots included important historical marble Capricorns commissioned by Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II ($234,860), a head study of historian Gerland Heard by legendary modern British artist Glyn Philpot ($50,300), and a macabre coffin-shaped memento mori ring with a mini skeleton inside designed by Attilio Codognato ($13,400).

Correction: The newsletter version of this story stated that the presale estimate for the painting was $7.5 million to $10 million. The presale estimate was $7,500 to $10,000. 

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