A delightful little dog portrait made a royal showing at Sotheby’s this morning, where it sold for $279,400 including fees — nearly 56 times its high estimate of $5,000. Jacques Barthélémy Delamarre’s late 18th-century oil painting is thought to be a depiction of Marie Antoinette’s “Pompon,” one of the French queen’s many canine companions. Mystery shrouds the subject of the portrait, but little is known about the artist, too.
Jacques Barthélémy Delamarre was accepted into the Académie de St-Luc in Paris in 1777 and painted in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Aside from those facts, Sotheby’s Old Masters Specialist Elisabeth Lobkowicz told Hyperallergic, all that is known is that Delamarre’s small body of work almost exclusively depicts versions of this exact dog and other small pets, including cats and rabbits.
Delamarre’s other portraits of Pompon show the dog eating biscuits and lounging on a lush red cushion. Lobkowicz said that although these compositions have historically been thought to portray Pompon, this notion has not been confirmed with certainty.
Lobkowicz said the dog’s breed remains a point of discussion as well: “Is it a poodle? Is it a King Charles spaniel? Or is it another toy breed altogether?” What is known is that “Pompon” sported a ridiculous hairstyle, much like those famously showcased by Marie Antoinette.
Antoinette’s home in Versailles was filled with pets including cats and monkeys. Antoinette owned tiny pups until she was executed in 1793. She even had a gilded velvet and silk dog kennel, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection.
According to a label on the back of Delamarre’s painting, the last time the work hit the auction block was in 1986, when Bonhams offered it with an estimate of $3,000–5,000.