A painting by the little-known Flemish artist Frans Francken II has been sold at auction in the French city of Troyes for €1.5 million – ten times the expert estimate. The work depicts the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites, led by Moses, who according to the Bible was empowered by God to split the waters to allow the people to pass. The pursuing Egyptians were caught when the waters returned and drowned.
According to auctioneer Thierry Pomez, the work had been in the possession of a local family for some years, and had attracted the attention of possible buyers. However the final price was a surprise. The identity of buyer and seller were not revealed.
Francken (1581-1642) was from a family of painters – 11 in all – active in the 16th and 17th centuries. He was trained in Rome, and specialised in Biblical and allegorical scenes. He became a member of the St. Lucas guild in Antwerp in 1605, and later presided the organisation.
His works are normally cabinet works of smaller format; the Crossing of the Red Sea is unusually large for him: 2.1m by 1.5m. The last major sale of one of his works was also larger format: The Eternal Dilemma of Man between Virtue and Sin, a crowded work depicting Paradise and Hell from 1633 was sold to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for €7 million.
His Allegory on the Abdication of the Emperor Charles V in Brussels can be seen in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.