Chardin and Bugatti: Two Iconic Works Expected in Paris

[07 May 2024]

New Record in the Making for Rembrandt Bugatti

Three bronze panthers stand proudly on a terrace, confidently advancing towards Rembrandt BUGATTI‘s new auction record. The artwork is exceptional in many ways. It is the only piece by the Italian artist depicting three panthers and it has never been mass-produced. With unparalleled rarity, this unique and previously unseen piece captures the elegance and power of the felines in an imposing sculpture nearly one and a half meters long. The quality of its nuanced brown patina, crafted by the Hébrard workshop, and its provenance from the Adrien-Aurélien Hébrard collection to a private collector in the 1970s, are major selling points to attract collectors worldwide.

Bonhams-Cornette de Saint Cyr describes it as “Rembrandt Bugatti’s most iconic and unique sculpture.” It will be the highlight of the Paris auction on June 5, with an estimated value ranging between 3.7 and 5.8 million dollars. Thus, this piece confidently heads towards a record that could surpass the $2.77 million achieved nearly a decade ago by the sculpture of the Sacred hamadryas baboon (Babouin sacré hamadryas) at a Sotheby’s auction in New York.

In 1905, at the Jardin des Plantes Ménagerie, Bugatti visited the panthers daily, his companions in life and work. He observed them with passion, acquainted himself with them, captured their natural movements, and envisioned them outside of their cage. At just 21 years old, he spontaneously sculpted these three panthers without preliminary sketches. His founder, Adrien Hébrard, who also ran a gallery on rue Royale, subsequently cast the original bronze edition of this work, which was exhibited the same year at the Grand Palais Autumn Salon.

A New Masterpiece by Chardin at Auction

While the Louvre recently acquired Jean Siméon Chardin’s iconic “Basket of Wild Strawberries,” another exceptional still life, among the most beautiful and rare, emerges on the market. “Le Melon entamé” (1760), one of CHARDIN‘s most important works still in private hands, is estimated between 8 and 12 million euros (8.5-12.8m$) by Christie’s for its June 12 auction. This oval canvas, approximately 60 centimeters tall, features various fruits, a carafe, two bottles, and a melon with a slice delicately balanced on the round fruit. According to Pierre Etienne, International Director of the Old Masters Paintings department at Christie’s: “Le Melon entamé” is a pure moment of pictorial poetry, a perfect instance where Chardin’s magic shines through: the balance of composition, light, colors, and forms.”

The opportunity is unique: oval-format works are rare in Chardin’s oeuvre, and the history of this painting is ideal. First exhibited at the 1761 Salon, “Le Melon entamé” was displayed alongside the “Apricot Jar,” now housed at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, and the famous “Basket of Wild Strawberries” (Le panier de fraises des bois), acquired by the Louvre for 24.3 million euros (26.8m$) thanks to collective efforts and the support of major benefactors.

After its 1761 Salon exhibition, “Le Melon entamé” enriched various prestigious collections. It first belonged to the Marcille family, known for their interest in the 18th-century French school, including Chardin, Watteau, Boucher, and Fragonard. The painting was later acquired by merchant Stéphane Bourgeois on behalf of Baroness Nathaniel de Rothschild (1825-1899) and remained in the Rothschild family for a century and a half.

The painting also boasts a significant advantage to appeal to international bidders: it holds a Certificate of Free Circulation of Cultural Property (CBC), meaning it can no longer be classified as a national treasure and is free to leave French territory.