On 23rd March 2022, the Old Master & 19th Century Art department at Artcurial and the Cabinet Turquin will present for sale a masterpiece by Jean Siméon Chardin, the Basket of Wild Strawberries. Chardin painted approximately one hundred and twenty still lives and often depicted the same objects or fruits, in particular silver goblets, teapots, hares, plums, melons and peaches. This still life is the only one by the artist to feature strawberries as its main subject.
Establishing itself as an icon of Western painting, combining a composition of great geometric simplicity, exceptional quality of creation and rarity of subject, it was exhibited by the artist at the Salon of 1761, rediscovered by François-André or Eudoxe Marcille a century later before disappearing from public view until the 20th century retrospectives in Paris. Passed by unnoticed at the time it was painted, the Basket of Wild Strawberries has, over time, become one of the most famous and emblematic images of the French 18th century, regularly reproduced on the cover of catalogues dedicated to the artist.
This painting is one of the masterpieces of the Marcille collection, which featured nearly 4,500 paintings, including 40 canvases by Boucher, 30 by Chardin, 25 by Fragonard... 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.
Admired for the silence of his artworks, the poetry of his representation of everyday objects, a true invitation to meditate, in withdrawal from the turmoil of his century, Chardin concentrates all these elements in this painting, making it a unique image for its time.
Indeed, the subject here is almost less important than the representation of shapes and volumes, such as the cylinder of the glass and the triangle formed by the strawberries. It is nonetheless exceptional in the artist's work.
A successor to the rare depictions of bowls of strawberries by 17th century Nordic and French painters, such as Jacob van Hulsdonck, Adriaen Coorte and Louyse Moillon, this painting bridges the two centuries, while leaning resolutely towards modernity.
The painter’s virtuosity is apparent in the incredible transparency of the water in the glass, the representation of the fruits that is both precise and fluid, as a whole form, thrown into relief by the white marks of the two carnations whose stems break up the regularity.
The painting presented here is directly comparable to the Basket of plums (Paris, the Louvre) and the Glass of Water and Coffeepot (Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute of Art), dating from the same period and both considered to be absolute masterpieces. The modernity of Chardin’s still lives found an important echo at the time of Impressionism, notably with Fantin-Latour, Monet, Renoir... And the rigour of his geometric compositions was seen again in the 20th Century in the work of Cézanne, Morandi, right through to Wayne Thiebault.
From Diderot to the Goncourt brothers, this painting was written about by the most illustrious critics of their time, as can be seen in this letter by Edmond and Jules de Goncourt:
“And here is the miracle of the things that Chardin paints: modelled both as solid forms as well as contours, drawn with light, made, so to speak, from the colour’s soul, they appear to detach themselves from the canvas and come alive, by some marvellous optical activity between the canvas and the spectator in space.”
Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, “Chardin”, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Paris, July 1863, p. 514 and seq.