‘Old Masters Now’
Fresh take offered on famliar, not-so-familiar artwork in Philly collection
Philadelphia lawyer John G. Johnson put a great deal of thought into a legacy to be enjoyed by future generations.
A hundred years after he passed away, Johnson’s collection of masterpieces by Monet, Manet and important painters from the Renaissance, are on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the exhibition “Old Masters Now: Celebrating the Johnson Collection.” In a press release, themuseum called it “one of the finest collections of European art ever to have been formed in the United States by a private collector.”
He sounds like Albert Barnes.
John Graver Johnson was born in 1841 in Chestnut Hill, before it became a part of Philadelphia. During his law career, his clients included J.P. Morgan, U.S. Steel, players on the 1901 Philadelphia Phillies team, and Alexander Cassatt, the brother of artist Mary Stevenson Cassatt.
He reportedly declined two Supreme Court nominations and another for U.S. attorney general.
Johnson quietly acquired works of art, that still spark scholarly discussion today. In 1892 he published a catalogue of his collection, which at that time included 281 paintings.
In 1895 Johnson was appointed to Philadelphia’s Fairmount Art Commission, where he oversaw a public collection of paintings and contributed 53 paintings from his personal collection to it. Under his leadership, the commission purchased James McNeill Whistler’s “Arrangement in Black” and Henry Ossawa Tanner’s “Annunciation,” the first work by an African-American artist to enter an American public collection.
When he died in 1917, Johnson bequeathed his collection — 1,279 paintings, 51 sculptures and more than 100 other objects — to the City of Philadelphia. In his will, he stated: “I have lived my life in this city. I want the collection to have its home here.” The will also stipulated that his South Broad Street house be opened as a public gallery. Like Barnes, Johnson had ideas all his own about how art should be displayed.
However, In 1933 the Johnson Collection was moved temporarily to the Philadelphia Museum of Art due to a funding crisis caused by the Great Depression, as well as a determination that the Johnson house was not a safe place for the collection. In 1958 a formal agreement was made concerning storage and display at the Art Museum. Johnson’s artwas exhibited as a separate collection within the museum for more than 50 years, then integrated into the permanent collection in the late 1980s.
What all will I see?
There’s a section de- voted to Dutch master Hieronymus Bosch, and Rembrandt’s “Head of Christ,” plus works by leading American and French artists of Johnson’s time — Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro and a marble by Auguste Rodin.
Also among the highlights is Titian’s “Portrait of Archbishop Filippo Archinto,” which is on display for the first time after a two-year conservation project.
“Descent fromthe Cross,” painted by the Netherlandish artist Joos van Cleve around 1520, has undergone a year-long conservation treatment and will be on view for the first time in 30 years.
You’ll discover that the skeleton in Dutch master Judith Leyster’s work “The Last Drop (The Gay Cavalier)” had been painted over. Dating to about 1629, it depicts a scene of two men approaching the end of a night of drinking. The skeleton was a symbolic warning to the revelers that they should change their ways.
And that’s only some of what’s on view. Don’t forget to explore themuseum’s European Galleries, where other works from the Johnson Collection are installed.
“Old Masters Now” offers a behind-the-scenes look at the collaborative work of the Art Museum’s curators and conservators, going on since the early ‘30s.
The exhibit explores burning questions regarding authenticity and determining an artist’s intent behind art created centuries ago.
How long do I have to see it?
Till Feb. 19. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, till 8:45 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays.
On Feb. 1 a public digital catalogue on the collection — a first of its kind for the Art Museum — will be launched at www.philamuseum.org/exhibitions/864. html?page=3& pubID=jgj. It will be available for free.
What’s it cost to get into the Art Museum?
$20, $18 for seniors 65+, $14 for students and youths 13-18, free to children 12 and under and members. Pay-what-you-wish admission is in effect the first Sunday of the month and on Wednesdays from 5 to 8:45 p.m.
Where do I go to start planning my visit?
There’s a lot of information at www.philamuseum.org, including how to get there. You can also call (215) 763-8100 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Saint Nicholas of Tolentino Saving a Shipwreck,” a 1457 tempera and gold on panel, with vertical grain, by Italian Giovanni di Paolo, in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s John G. Johnson Collection.
“The Battle of the U.S.S. Kearsarge and the C.S.S. Alabama,” an 1864painting by Édouard Manet in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s John G. Johnson Collection.
“Head of Christ” by Rembrandt is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s John G. Johnson Collection.