Concerns over former MFA director’s relationship with English art collector
The revelations also throw new light on a loan of paintings in 2014 that Rogers negotiated with Stunt on behalf of the MFA. Many of these paintings, which included works attributed to Anthony van Dyck and Joshua Reynolds, were displayed at various times at the museum between April 2014 and January 2018.
At least one of the works sold shortly after leaving the Boston museum – attributed to van Dyck and accompanied by a notice from Rogers confirming its attribution – at a considerable markup over its previous auction price, when sold as a studio version.
Three of Stunt’s paintings remain in the museum.
A spokesperson for the MFA told the Globe that the museum “does not have any specific information regarding the attribution of any of the works loaned to the MFA”.
“We always take attribution issues seriously, whether they are works of art in our collection or works on loan to the Museum,” public relations director Karen Frascona said via email. She added that the MFA has sought to return the last three paintings. “The process has been delayed by the pandemic and the difficulty of finalizing arrangements with Mr. Stunt.”
Rogers, who now resides in his native England, said the MFA loan included “[a]authentic works” by a number of artists.
“I dispute very many points in the [Art Newspaper]said Rogers in an email to The Globe. When asked if he had commented on any of the Stunt paintings on display at the Boston Museum, he replied, “I wrote Mr. Stunt about 4 of the loaned works.”
Art historians are regularly invited to give expert opinions on works of art, and while some provide this expertise for free, others receive fees for their services.
Rogers said Stunt covered some of his research-related travel expenses and “from time to time he gave me gifts as a sign of appreciation,” but he never received any direct payments for his Stunt’s “opinion letters”.
This account is contradicted by two former associates of Stunt quoted by The Art Newspaper: One of them claimed to have seen documents showing “payments from Stunt to Rogers”. The other, who told the newspaper that Rogers was a frequent visitor to the collector’s London residence, said he often passed envelopes to Rogers as they returned home, although he did not know what they contained.
“I can assure you that the frequency of our meetings is grossly overstated,” said Rogers, who remains a trustee of the Worcester Art Museum. “There was no ‘Stunt envelope’.”
The Globe could not immediately reach Stunt or his former associates for comment.
A tabloid in Britain, James Stunt is known for his lavish lifestyle, a chain-smoking art and exotic car collector who often traveled with a host of personal security guards. His marriage to Formula 1 heiress Petra Ecclestone ended in a controversial divorce in 2017. Stunt was declared bankrupt in 2019, and earlier this year went on trial for his role in an alleged money laundering scheme of money involving money deposited in the account of a gold dealer, charges which he denied.
Questions about Stunt’s art collection also became public in 2019, when the Mail on Sunday reported allegations that Stunt, as part of a larger loan, had sent at least three forgeries to Dumfries House , a Scottish estate owned by the King Charles III Charitable Foundation. .
Dumfries House had already returned the entire collection of 17 paintings – including alleged forgeries attributed to Claude Monet, Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso – when the story was published. Yet the question remained: how had Stunt managed to place his works in a house of the future king of England?
The answer came a few months later, when a Vanity Fair article described how Rogers had met Charles, then the Prince of Wales, two years earlier to recommend paintings from Stunt’s collection.
Asked about this meeting, Rogers told the Globe: “I met Prince Charles at the time and talked to him about paintings by Van Dyck and Reynolds.”
The recent Art Newspaper article sheds further light on Rogers’ involvement in the Dumfries House loan, describing how the former MFA director approved seven of the loaned paintings, including works he attributed to van Dyck , Francisco Goya and Diego Velazquez. (None of the works Rogers recommended were among the three alleged forgeries in the collection.)
British portraiture expert Rogers claimed one of the loaned images, which sold with a lower attribution in 2016, was “clearly an autograph work” by van Dyck, according to the article. This was at odds with art historian Susan Barnes, co-author of a comprehensive survey of van Dyck’s work, who considered the painting an “absolute copy”.
In total, the paper estimates the value of Stunt Paintings with Improved Assignments to around £70m (over $77m at today’s exchange rate). He arrived at the figure by calculating the difference between Stunt’s purchase price – set at around £357,000 – and the insurance value shown on the contracts.
In a letter to The Art Newspaper, which Rogers shared with the Globe, he said it does not “authenticate” works. On the contrary, “I am often asked to give opinions on work that falls within my area of research.
“As opinions, they are naturally open to challenge by other scholars,” said Rogers, who worked as assistant director at the National Portrait Gallery in London before arriving in Boston. “I stand by the opinions I have given, but I would stress that they can in no way be taken as ‘authentication’.”
Authenticating Old Master paintings is notoriously difficult, especially for artists who had active studios with many skilled assistants, imitators and, invariably, forgers. Art historians, curators and others will provide opinions on a painting in question, with each opinion weighted according to the reputation of the expert. The goal is to come to a consensus.
Rogers also pushed back against the idea that some of the works had been considered copies: “I don’t recall any being cataloged as copies. … In any case, it is naïve to think that my opinion had the effect of ‘increasing their value considerably’.”
Long before Rogers helped Stunt place the paintings in Dumfries House, the couple negotiated the MFA loan, including works attributed to van Dyck, Reynolds, Peter Lely, Thomas Lawrence and John Constable.
Although press materials at the time described a loan of five paintings, it later expanded to include 13 works of art. Among them was “François Langlois en Savoyard”, a painting which the museum described as one of two versions painted by van Dyck – one for the artist, a well-documented work now jointly owned by two British museums, and one, Stunt’s version, which the museum says was painted for the model.
What the museum did not reveal in its press release, however, is that an Old Master dealer had purchased the painting two years earlier as a contemporary 17th-century workshop version for around 340,000 $. According to The Telegraph, the dealer then sold the painting to Stunt as a fully attributed van Dyck.
The MFA exhibited eight of Stunt’s paintings at various times through January 2018. At least three of the artworks were later offered for Christie’s Old Master sale in April.
Among them was the Langlois painting now attributed to van Dyck, which sold for $1.8 million, more than five times its 2012 hammer price. The auction house highlighted the story of the painting’s exhibition at the MFA, noting that Barnes and Rogers had confirmed the van Dyck attribution.
In an email to the Globe in 2020, Barnes, whose 2004 complete book on van Dyck described the work as “a contemporary version”, said she had examined the work in person after it was sold in 2012 and “was happy to affirm it is a second authentic version.
MFA spokeswoman Frascona said, “We immediately gather all available facts and review each situation” when new information surfaces about an artwork.
“[W]We aim to be transparent with our audience,” she said. “[W]We are not in possession of any specific information regarding the attribution of past loans to the MFA from Mr. Stunt.
Aside from the three works still at the MFA, neither the museum nor Rogers could say where the other 10 works landed.
“I don’t know where one of Mr. Stunt’s great collections is currently,” Rogers said. I “have not communicated with him for several years”.