Art Dealer Bought This for $26.8M. Then the Louvre Said No

France leans on law aimed at keeping culturally significant works close to home
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 9, 2022 6:00 AM CDT
Louvre Says This Painting Is a National Treasure, Blocks Sale
The Louvre in Paris blocked the sale of Chardin's "Basket of Wild Strawberries," claiming the painting as a national treasure. To obtain the painting, the museum must raise $26.8 million to cover the price that it fetched at auction.   (Jean-Baptiste-Simon Chardin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The art world saw another bidding war recently, this time over Basket of Wild Strawberries, a sweet 18th-century still life by Jean Chardin. While the artist’s previous record was a mere $8 million, this one went for $26.8 million, reports ARTnews. But before the New York art dealer who won the auction could collect the painting, officials from the Louvre blocked the sale, at least temporarily, claiming the work is a "national treasure." Under a French law aimed at keeping such works in country, the state can now withhold the export license for up to 30 months, giving the Louvre time to try to raise funds to cover the purchase.

Other nations have similar laws to protect works of cultural significance, and ARTnews gives two recent examples: A tussle is currently underway in the UK, where the government has temporarily barred the export of Portrait of Omai, an 18th-century work by Joshua Reynolds valued at $65 million; public UK institutions only have until July to raise funds to buy the painting. And in Spain, billionaire banker Jaime Botin was sentenced in 2020 to 18 months in prison and fined $58 million "for smuggling a Picasso painting out of Spain on his yacht" after being denied an export license; the work in question had been declared a national treasure, reports Business Insider.

Globally, the art market is on a real tear. A report last month by ArtMarket says market "performance in 2021 was unprecedented, putting the historic tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic firmly behind it." The Guardian reports that experts are pinning the surging sales on three factors: crypto-millionaires becoming buyers; growth in the Asia sector; and "the belief that art is a good investment at a time of economic uncertainty." (More Fine art market stories.)

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