A painting of a pile of strawberries by the 18th-century French artist Jean-Siméon Chardin fetched €24.4m (with fees) at Artcurial in Paris yesterday, setting an auction record for the artist. The auction house says that the price is also the highest paid at auction for an 18th-century French painting.
The work was bought by the New York dealer Adam Williams, who was bidding in the room. This was confirmed by the Old Master paintings specialist Eric Turquin who advised on the sale and wrote the catalogue entry. He also tells The Art Newspaper that the underbidder was a London gallery bidding for a private American collector and Eric Coatalem, a Parisian dealer, whose interest "pushed the picture up to €15m". Turquin told the Financial Times that he will receive a small percentage of the sale proceeds.
The previous record for a French Old Master painting was held by Bonhams for the sale of a Fragonard portrait from the collection of Gustav Rau, depicting the duke Francois-Henri d'Harcourt, which sold for £17.1m (with fees) in 2013.
While Chardin painted plenty of peaches, melons and pears, The Basket of Wild Strawberries (1761) is his only still-life to feature the eponymous fruit, making it “one of the most famous and emblematic images of the 18th century in France”, said Artcurial, which gave the painting a hefty estimate of €12m to €15m.
The work, shown at the Paris Salon in 1761, was passed down through the family of Eudoxe Marcille, a 19th-century connoisseur who inherited numerous works by influential artists such as François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard from his father, François Marcille. “[The work] remained in the hands of Eudoxe Marcille’s descendants until today; it is one of the most important 18th-century French paintings to remain in private hands,” adds the auction house.
Emerson Bowyer, curator of European painting and sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, wrote on Instagram: “Sensational painting, an absolute icon of the French Enlightenment and its complexities… the painting achieved a very worthy price at auction. Jealous of the new owner!”