Lot 10
  • 10

SEBASTIAEN VRANCX | The Story of the Prodigal Son: The Departure of the Prodigal Son; The Prodigal Son's Feast; The Prodigal Son with the Swine; The Return of the Prodigal Son

300,000 - 500,000 GBP
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  • The Story of the Prodigal Son: The Departure of the Prodigal Son; The Prodigal Son's Feast; The Prodigal Son with the Swine; The Return of the Prodigal Son
  • the first signed with monogram on the pediment and dated on the cartouche, upper left: SV / MDCXXXII; the second signed with monogram on the barrel, lower right; the third signed with monogram on the cartouche, upper centre, and indistinctly dated, lower right
  • a set of four, all oil on oak panel
  • Each: 19¼in by 28¾in


Laurent Meeus, Brussels, by 1926; Anonymous sale ('The Property of a Gentleman'), London, Sotheby's, 11 December 1974, lots 58A–D, where acquired by the present owner.


Brussels, Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Exposition rétrospective du paysage flamand, 8 September – 8 November 1926, nos 358–61.


M. Díaz Padrón, 'Un dibujo de Sebastian Vranck en el Museo del Prado', in Boletín del Museo del Prado, vol. 1, no. 3, 1980, pp. 156–58, the first and second panels reproduced figs 2 and 5.

Catalogue Note

Vrancx had a great sense of theatre, his compositions indeed are often akin to stage-sets populated with actors in costume, and in this lively set of four panels depicting episodes from the story of the Prodigal Son the artist adds a narrative to this artifice. The most theatrical of the four is the second, showing a well-dressed lady and a young gentleman (the prodigal son) dancing in a palace courtyard, a small string trio off to the left, and lovers all around. This scene recounts the expenditure of the prodigal son’s inheritance on an extravagant lifestyle which would ultimately lead to his returning home to his father, destitute (fourth scene), having lost everything and having been forced to find work as a swineherd (third scene). Intact sets of paintings such as these are extremely rare. No other such sets by Vrancx depicting the story of the Prodigal Son are known, but he did paint a good number of sets depicting the Four Seasons, such as those sold London, Christie’s, 9 July 2015, lot 29 (£1,650,500).1 In those, as here, Vrancx reveals a predilection for light-hearted and often comical detail. This may be connected with his membership of the Antwerp rhetoricians chamber ‘de Violeren’ for whom he wrote and illustrated several farces and comedies.

One of the panels is dated 1632, a time in Vrancx’s career when he was in high demand. It seems likely that he employed assistants to help in the execution of the large number of commissions he received at this time, even though Jan Brueghel the Younger’s letter from 1634 says otherwise: ‘Vrancx has plenty to do but refuses to employ studio assistants, which means that work takes a long time. He does not allow copies to be put into circulation’.2

A high quality preparatory drawing for the first scene, the Departure of the Prodigal Son, is in the Museo del Prado, Madrid. Signed in the same place above the gateway, there are however numerous differences to the palace architecture in particular. Another high quality drawing for the second scene is in the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Braunschweig.3

We are grateful to Joost van der Auwera for endorsing the attribution to Sebastian Vrancx and for pointing us to the drawings in Madrid and Braunschweig.

1 Diaz Padron notes a copy of the first scene signed by Coignet, though the architecture follows that of the drawing rather than that of the painting; Diaz Padron 1980, p.157.

2 See H. Gerson and E.H. ter Kuile, Art and Architecture in Belgium, 1600–1800, Harmondsworth 1960, p. 63, note 33.

3 Diaz Padron 1980, p. 158, fig. 4.