Sunday, September 3, 2017

Old Masters Now: Celebrating the Johnson Collection

Philadelphia Museum of Art 
November 3, 2017–February 19, 2018

This major exhibition will focus on one of the finest collections of European art to have been formed in the United States by a private collector. The exhibition will present about 90 out of the John G. Johnson Collection’s nearly 1,500 works, including early Italian and Renaissance paintings by such masters as Botticelli, Bosch, and Titian, important seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish paintings including Rembrandt and Jan Steen, and others by the contemporary French masters of Johnson’s day, notably Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, and the Impressionists.

The exhibition will mark the centenary of Johnson’s gift of his collection to the city of Philadelphia and will offer a close look at some works that curators and conservators have analyzed and cared for over the years, exploring issues of attribution and authenticity, and undertaking other forms of detective work to form a better understanding of Johnson’s collection.

On June 19, 1864, the United States warship Kearsarge sank the Confederate raider Alabama off the coast of Cherbourg, France, in one of the most celebrated naval engagements of the American Civil War. The battle was widely reported in the illustrated press and riveted public attention on both sides of the Channel. When Kearsarge later anchored off the French resort town of Boulogne-sur-Mer it was thronged by curious visitors, one of whom was the artist Édouard Manet. Although he did not witness the historic battle, Manet made a painting of it partly as an attempt to regain the respect of his colleagues after having been ridiculed for his works in the 1864 Salon. Manet's picture of the naval engagement (below)

and his portrait of the victorious Kearsarge belong to a group of his seascapes of Boulogne whose unorthodox perspective and composition would profoundly influence the course of French painting.

Highlights of the exhibition include

Édouard Manet’s The Battle of the U.S.S. “Kearsage” and the C.S.S. “Alabama,” 1864,

and James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks, 1864,

as well as major works by Dutch and Netherlandish painters, including

Judith Leyster’s The Last Drop, c. 1639,

and Rogier van der Weyden’s The Crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist Mourning, c. 1460,

and Italian paintings including Titian’s Portrait of Archbishop Filippo Archinto, 1558,

and Masolino and Masaccio’s Saints Paul and Peter, 

and John the Evangelist (?) and Martin of Tours, c. 1427–28.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Museum is publishing a digital catalogue, which includes thematic essays, archival resources, and detailed entries on 70 artworks. The essays focus on the formation and stewardship of the collection. The catalogue will be widely available to researchers of all kinds, and free to access.


Jennifer Thompson, The Gloria and Jack Drosdick Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, and Curator of the John G. Johnson Collection; with Christopher Atkins, The Agnes and Jack Mulroney Associate Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, and Manager of Curatorial Digital Programs and Initiatives; Teresa Lignelli, The Aronson Senior Conservator of Paintings; and Mark S. Tucker, The Neubauer Family Director of Conservation.