The McCann Time Capsule: Erickson, Rembrandt and Aristotle.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has unfortunately been in the news lately because of its budget deficit and the need to lay off workers. But 55 years ago it was clearly feeling a lot more flush when it made a purchase at a record price that also polished the reputation of McCann co-founder Alfred Erickson as a legendary art collector.
Adding to his many achievements in business and philanthropy, Erickson also became famous for his legendary Old Masters collection of paintings. In 1961, it was the cover story in Time magazine (as well as a Page One story in The New York Times) when Erickson’s wife Anna died and the estate auctioned off his art collection. A new record was set for purchasing a painting: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York paid a record $2.3 million for Rembrandt’s “Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer.”
Erickson’s ownership of the painting also made it into one of the novels of Joseph Heller, the author of Catch-22. Heller’s 1988 novel, “Picture This,” focused on the Rembrandt painting and its ownership over its history. Referring to the art dealer Joseph Duveen and the year 1928, the book says, “By November of that year, Aristotle was back in New York, and Duveen sold the painting to Mr. and Mrs. Alfred W. Erickson, of 110 East Thirty-fifth Street.” Erickson, who paid about $750,000 and took possession of the painting in January 1929, had to sell it back to Duveen for about $500,000 after the October 1929 stock market crash. But then in February 1936, Erickson reacquired the painting for $590,000 and the painting was moved back out of storage and onto the walls of the Erickson home. Erickson himself, however, did not have that much time to spend looking at it though; he died later that year.