Representing its highest value acquisition in over 100 years, the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest has exhibited a recently purchased painting by Anthony van Dyck, completed only months before the artist died in December 1641. A full-length portrait of Princess Mary, the eldest daughter of Charles I of England, the painting depicts the young royal as a child bride, in celebration of her marriage to the future Prince William II of the Netherlands.
Bought at Christie’s London in December last year for just over €6.6m (including the buyer’s premium), the purchase was entirely funded by a grant from the Hungarian government. The acquisition was, however, kept secret so that the painting could be unveiled to the public on 19 February. Installed in an eye-catching position in the museum’s newly restored Leonardo room, it has gone on show alongside an earlier Van Dyck already in the collection, as well as portraits of other royal children from the 17th century.
The director of the Museum of Fine Arts, László Baán, says the acquisition was driven by the feeling that the collection, which is considered to be one of the most important in central Europe, was lacking in masterpieces from Van Dyck’s final years. Baán added that there had been no issues exporting the piece from the UK and that Christie’s had handled the entire process.
As a means of limiting the loss of important works, valuable pieces that have resided in the UK for over 50 years require an export license to leave the country. In this case, however, John Stainton, deputy chairman of Old Master Paintings at Christie’s, confirmed that the portrait of Princess Mary had been consigned from outside the EU when it was previously sold by the auction house in 1989. Asked whether UK institutions had shown any interest in purchasing the painting, Stainton said: “Clearly the UK has an extensive series of exceptional Royal portraits by Van Dyck, including several representations of Princess Mary, and we are delighted that this picture will now be on public display in Budapest alongside the Museum of Fine Art’s remarkable collection.”
The portrait of Princess Mary will be included in the Museum of Fine Arts major autumn-winter exhibition focused on Rubens and the 17th century heyday of Flemish painting. It will form the fifth part in a long-term series of Old Master exhibitions, with the previous instalment on the Dutch Golden Age attracting almost 250,000 visitors.