Texas’s Kimbell Art Museum Has Been Revealed as the Buyer of Chardin’s $26.8 Million Painting of Strawberries

But the French government declared the work a national treasure, throwing its fate into question.

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Le panier de fraises des bois. Courtesy of ArtCurial.

An unknown buyer set a record for Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin when they paid €24.4 million ($26.8 million) for the still life The Basket of Wild Strawberries (1761) in March, only to have the French government swoop in and declare the painting a national treasure, which allows the Louvre two years to buy the work.

Now it has been revealed that the buyer was the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. The bidding drew gasps in the salesroom of Artcurial when a small, but committed, number of buyers drove the price up $12 million over its estimate. The painting, Chardin’s only still life of strawberries, set a record for any 18th-century French painting sold at auction, according to Artcurial.

Eric Lee, director of the Kimbell Art Museum, who was represented in the Artcurial salesroom by dealer Adam Williams, remained pragmatic about the potential delays to exporting the painting to the United States.

“[T]his work is worth waiting for,” he told the Art Newspaper France. “Even if we consider the Louvre may finally obtain it, it’s win-win in every sense as a major museum will acquire the work. This piece is a national treasure in France, it would be a treasure in our museum also where it would be looked after and complement the collection.”

The Kimbell Art Museum opened in 1972 with a collection focused on the French and British portraiture, such as works by Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse, Alfred Sisley, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, and Thomas Gainsborough. The collection has since been expanded and now includes works by Henry Moore and Isamu Noguchi as well.

The Louvre, which already has 41 Chardin works in its collection, will have to raise the funds to purchase the work and, according to the Art Newspaper, could turn to one of its sponsors, oil and gas company TotalEnergies, for help.

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