When the Kimbell Art Museum secured Jean Siméon Chardin’s “The Basket of Wild Strawberries” at auction for almost 24.4 million euros ($26.4 million) last March, the Texas institution expected the painting to join its small but valuable collection of European masterpieces.
But a month later, France’s culture ministry denied the 18th-century artwork an export license and designated it a “national treasure” — status that gave the country’s national collections two and a half years to purchase it by matching the winning bid.
Now, with less than four months left and 1.3 million euros ($1.4 million) still to raise, the Louvre Museum is turning to the public to keep the oil painting in France.
The Paris institution last week launched a fundraising campaign to help acquire a work it describes as “the quintessence of Chardin’s oeuvre.” Having already raised a significant portion of the money — including 15 million euros ($16.3 million) pledged by LVMH, owner of luxury brands including Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co. — the Louvre is calling for public donations before the export ban expires in February.
At the time of publication, the campaign had raised 20% of the required sum from over 2,000 donors. Potential patrons are being offered various perks in return, including private tours to view the painting and invites to a museum cocktail reception.
Chardin is widely heralded as being one of the greatest ever still life artists. Produced around 1760, the painting centers on a pyramid of strawberries in a wicker basket. It is one of several celebrated works by the French painter that depict fruits including plums and peaches.
The 18-inch-wide work was put on sale by a descendant of the 19th-century art collector Eudoxe Marcille, according to auction house ArtCurial, which handled the 2022 sale.
Initially expected to attract bids up to 15 million euros ($16.2 million), the painting was eventually won by the Kimbell Art Museum, which was founded in Fort Worth, Texas in 1972. The institution’s collection of over 300 artworks currently includes Michelangelo’s first known painting, “The Torment of Saint Anthony” and paintings by several major French artists, including Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin.
The Texas museum already has one other Chardin work in its collection. The Louvre, meanwhile, has more than 40, though the Paris institution described “The Basket of Wild Strawberries” as being “the last (painting) of its quality to remain in private hands.”
“Its entry into the national collections would masterfully complete the unique ensemble already presented at the Louvre Museum, the most important by this painter in the world,” said Louvre director Laurence des Cars in press release, describing the painting as “imbued with the poetry of senses.”
In a statement emailed to CNN, the Kimbell Art Museum’s director Eric M. Lee appeared to accept that his institution would never be able to complete the purchase. “While I’m sorry that the painting will not find its home at the Kimbell, I’m delighted that this masterpiece of French painting will be on view for the public at the Louvre,” he said.
Lee was unavailable for further comment. But he earlier told the New York Times: “I agree that the painting is a national treasure of France. But I also believe that it is a world treasure and could serve as an ambassador of French culture.”