Boston Purchases a Masterpiece by Frans Francken II


1. Frans Francken II (1581-1642)
Eternal Dilemma – The Choice Between Virtue and Vice, 1633
Oil on panel - 142 x 210.8 cm
Boston, Museum of Fine Art
Photo : Didier Rykner

20/3/12 - Acquisition - Boston, Museum of Fine Art - On 28 April 2010, a painting by Frans Francken (ill. 1) had caused quite a sensation when sold for 7,022,000€ at the Dorotheum in Vienna. Exceptional in every way within the artist’s production, for its size, ambition and quality, it had gone to the dealer Johnnny van Haeften who, if we are to believe Paul Jeromack on Artnet, purchased it without even seeing it, stranded outside of Austria by the Icelandic volcano eruption.
This panel had also been highly noticed at Maastricht in 2011. Its second appearance at TEFAF, at exactly the same place as the previous year, finally met with success as it has just been purchased by the Museum of Fine Art of Boston for 12 million euros [1].


2. Frans Francken II (1581-1642)
Eternal Dilemma – The Choice Between Virtue and Vice, 1633, detail
Oil on panel - 142 x 210.8 cm
Boston, Museum of Fine Art
Photo : Didier Rykner

Frans Francken is reputed for small paintings, often executed on copper or panel, and it appears there is no other known piece comparable to this work, whose intended location also remains a mystery. We will not attempt to describe the incredibly complex iconography here in detail. Let it suffice to say that the man sitting in the upper right half, is torn between, on the right, the temptation of lust and riches, and on the left honor and power, while a concert of angels show him another possible path. In the middle, we find the three Theological Virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity, accompanied by Arthena and Hercules. We should remember that the mytholigical hero also had to choose between Virtue and Vice.
The whole lower half of the painting is devoted to a representation of Hell which no doubt awaits the sinner if he makes the wrong choice. Of note are the fiercely expressive faces of the figures, especially Satan astride a dragon (ill. 2). Certain small monstruous animals recall those of Jerome Bosch or Peter Brueghel the Elder.

This fascinating work is without question a masterpiece by a lesser artist, which is always better than a second rate painting by a great master. Again according to Paul Jeromack [2], this purchase was funded by the businessman, Edward Johnson III.

Version française


Didier Rykner, mardi 20 mars 2012


Notes

[1] This acquisition was announced by Paul Jeromack on Artnet. We had already learned about it the previous evening but the Boston museum did not respond to our inquiries ; since then we received the following laconic reaction : "The MFA has no comment."

[2] In the article quoted above.



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