Sweet success for Chardin’s record-breaking strawberry painting, selling at €24 million (£20 million)

Jean-Siméon Chardin’s (1699-1779) painting of a delectable stack of strawberries fetched €24 million (£20 million) with fees at Artcurial in Paris last week, smashing the French artist’s auction record.

Chardin spent his entire life in Paris, specialising in charmingly simplistic genre scenes and still lifes. Painted in 1761, “The Basket of Wild Strawberries” is Chardin’s only depiction of the fruit in his oeuvre of 120 still lifes. The work was displayed at the Salon in Paris in the same year and is now considered “one of the most famous and emblematic images of the French 18th century,” according to the auction house.

Chardin painted this at the peak of his career,” said Old Master paintings specialist Eric Turquin. “The pyramid of strawberries is perfection. It’s a trophy picture.”

The iconic painting’s provenance can be traced back to Eudoxe Marcille (1814-1890), a nineteenth-century painter and collector who inherited numerous works by renowned French artists from his father, François Marcille (1790-1856). It disappeared from public view shortly after Marcille’s acquisition, only to reappear the following century in a retrospective exhibition dedicated to the artist in Paris.

Artcurial explained that Chardin’s masterpiece “remained in the hands of Eudoxe Marcille’s descendants until today; it is one of the most important eighteenth-century French paintings to remain in private hands.

On the day of the auction, the fruity painting quickly surpassed its already hefty estimate of €12 million – €15 million (£10 million – £12.5 million). New York dealer Adam Williams bought the work after more than 5 minutes of bidding in the room, which was followed by a round of applause from the one hundred strong audience.

The sale also set a new auction record for an eighteenth-century French painting. A portrait of duke Francois-Henri d’Harcourt (1726-1802) from the collection of Gustav Rau (1922-2022) by Jean-Honoré Fragonard ( 1732-1806) held the record previously, fetching £17.1 million with fees at Bonhams in 2013.

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