How Former Director of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts Acquired His Most Coveted Art Piece

  • Photo by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
    At a London antiques fair, Malcolm Rogers happened upon the very sculpture he had admired for years. Photo by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  • Janice O'Leary

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MALCOLM ROGERS, the former director of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, long coveted a sculpture that he had seen featured on the cover of a magazine. By chance, decades later he came to own that very work of art.  

“I am a naturally acquisitive collector of painting, sculpture, and decorative art, and I most prefer the three-dimensional. I’m so omnivorous, some might consider me a pack rat, but I feel differently. I love beauty, and I love bringing beauty into my living space, so I am very interested in interior decoration. Some would say my taste is rather old-fashioned, but I think of it as rich and slightly in the English country style. 

“I’ve always enjoyed reading interior-decorating magazines. An issue of the World of Interiors many years ago featured a story on an apartment in Athens, Greece. When I saw the images, I thought, ‘This is just what I want my home to be.’ The apartment was owned by an Ameri­can, Harry Blackmer, and over­looked the Acropolis. On the cover of the magazine was a view of the entrance hall. It included an 18th-century French terra-cotta sculpture of the Roman god of the underworld, Dis, with Cerberus, the three-headed hound of Hades, in chains beside him. The sculpture somehow felt like the key to achieving the look I wanted in my own home. 

“Decades later, I was at the Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair in London. At one stand, I spied under a table, half hidden by a tablecloth, this very same terra-cotta statue. It was 3 feet high by 2 feet wide. A paper label dangling from a string tied around the statue read: Harry Blackmer. I recalled his name from the article. I bought the piece for less than $2,000, carried it to my BMW, and buckled it into the front seat.

“This experience reminds me that works of art have a life of their own. A French sculpture of a Roman god, owned by an American in Athens, discovered by a British man in England, and then transported to my residence in Boston.”

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