Juan for the Money

updated 05/15/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/15/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

ANTIQUE STORES ARE MAGNETS TO Fred Folsom. So when the Washington artist and art restorer passed through Wilson, N.C., last summer with his wife, Rose, and spotted Boykin Antiques, "the car just sort of pulled itself over," he says. As always, he was looking for a 1937 Philco radio to complete the couple's living room. Instead, Folsom recalls, "All at once I looked up and saw this portrait. I said, 'Huh? What's that doing here?' "

"That" was a 17-by-22-inch oil portrait of a Spanish grandee. "Right away," says Folsom, 49, "I sensed that it probably was an original work, a Renaissance portrait. And I knew I had to have it." Folsom talked owner J. Robert Boykin III—who got the painting on consignment from a collector's estate in January 1994—down to $7,000 from his asking price of $12,000, using up two credit cards to pay for it. After nine months of research and consultation with art experts, he now has his answer. The painting of Don Juan de Austria (1547-1578), half brother of King Philip II of Spain and conqueror of the Turkish fleet at the 1571 Battle of Lepanto, is almost certainly the work of Francisco Pacheco, best known as the teacher (and father-in-law) of Velásquez. Its estimated value is between $500,000 and $700,000, according to art experts.

Folsom—who augments his restoration work and portrait painting with a part-time job as manager of an office building—plans to keep Don Juan in a bank vault for safekeeping. He admits that the purchase of the Pacheco and the research to authenticate it have left him in financial straits. "I couldn't even afford to get it properly X-rayed to show what lies beneath the surface of the paint," he says, "so I talked to this friend of a friend at a hospital, and I got six mammograms of it for free."

Looking lovingly at his acquisition, Folsom sighs. "I love this painting, but I know I can't keep it," he says. "I'm going to have to sell it." Good news for anyone looking to unload a 1937 Philco.

From Our Partners