Art Market Watch
BOSTON MFA BUYS FRANS FRANCKEN MASTERPIECE FOR $12 MILLION
In 1993, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston presented “The Age Of Rubens,” a splendiferous survey of 17th-century Flemish painting featuring masterpieces by the Man Himself, Anthony Van Dyck, plus Jacob Jordaens, David Teniers the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder to less well known masters like Theodor Rombouts and Abraham van Diepenbeeck. Among those excluded from the party (though briefly discussed in Peter’s Sutton’s exemplary catalogue) was Frans Francken the Younger (1581-1642).
Nineteen years later, Frans is getting his revenge. His acknowledged masterpiece, Mankind’s Eternal Dilemma – The Choice Between Virtue and Vice, has just been acquired by the MFA at this year’s TEFAF in Maastricht from London dealer Johnny Van Haeften for $12 million -- a record for both the artist and an Old Master painting bought by the institution. The buyer who bought the picture for the museum is Edward Johnson III, known as “Ned,” who is a co-owner of Fidelity Investments and a scion of Boston’s Perkins family.
The picture -- light years ahead of anything else Francken did, yet indisputably by him -- is museum director Malcolm Rogers’ first paintings purchase as acting curator of European paintings since the MFA’s former paintings curator, George Shackelford, decamped for the Kimbell Art Museum. Rogers was spotted at the fair with a phalanx of big donors, including Eyk van Otterloo, whose Dutch pictures are currently on view at the MFA.
As previously reported in Artnet Magazine, Rogers and Van Haeften had separately admired the Francken picture during its appearance at the Dorotheum auction house in Vienna in April 2010, but due to flight cancellations caused by Icelandic volcanic smoke neither were able to preview the sale in person. Acting solely from high-resolution internet images, Van Haeften paid a record price of €7,022,300 ($9,458,152) for the picture, well above the presale high estimate of €500,000. One underbidder was thought to have been either New York dealers French & Company or the Prince of Liechtenstein.
Van Haeften had shown it at TEFAF last year with an asking price of $14 million.
PAUL JEROMACK is a New York critic and journalist.