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November 12, 2010 |  9:00 am

Fitz Henry Lane Salem Harbor 1853 On Friday, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston is holding a press preview for its much-anticipated new wing for the Art of the Americas, which opens to the public Nov. 20. I'll have a review next week.

Among much else, the wing will house the great M. and M. Karolik Collection, whose background is a classic of modern museum history.

Martha Codman scandalized Boston society in 1927 when she took up with Maxim Karolik. She was a hugely wealthy heiress to a shipping fortune, descended from numerous distinguished families, with homes in Boston, Newport, R. I., and Washington, D.C. He was a Russian emigre, of indistinct legacy, who made his way from Odessa and Kiev, Ukraine, and Petrograd to the United States with dreams, never quite fulfilled, of becoming an opera star.

Together they built one of the great collections of 19th century American furniture (primed by her family heirlooms), paintings, folk art, watercolors and drawings.

Did I mention that when the couple met, she was 70 and he was 35? They developed the MFA's American art collection over the next 20 years -- she died at 90 -- after which he continued on his own.

Martha Codman Karolik, Back Bay cougar.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Fitz Henry Lane's 1853 painting "Salem Harbor" was one of the works collected by the Karoliks. Credit: Museum of Fine Arts Boston