Old Masters Now: Celebrating the Johnson Collection

Old Masters Now: Celebrating the Johnson Collection

Featuring Italian Renaissance painters, Dutch masters, and French Impressionists, Old Masters Now: Celebrating the Johnson Collection is on view November 3, 2017 – February 19, 2018, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, first floor Dorrance Special Exhibition Galleries, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA

In 1917 John G. Johnson, the most famous lawyer of his day, left his astonishing trove of European art to the city of Philadelphia. One hundred years later, we’re taking a new look at one of this country’s most remarkable collections. Encounter treasures by the likes of Botticelli, Bosch, Titian, Rembrandt, and Monet—and see how we keep making new discoveries about the collection.


Old Masters Now: Celebrating the Johnson Collection

Portrait of a Young Gentleman by Antonello da Messina, 1474, oil on panel, 12 ⅝ x 10 ¾ inches


Far from being a static group of objects, the Johnson Collection is subject to constant care, study, and scrutiny. What does it mean to tend to and learn from an art collection of this magnitude and significance? What discoveries and challenges do we encounter day in, day out?

In this exhibition, get a behind-the-scenes look at a living, breathing collection and experience first-hand how our understanding and appreciation of these works have evolved over the years.



Early Italian and Netherlandish Paintings

The oldest works in the Johnson Collection, these early Italian and Netherlandish paintings have led extremely complex lives. Many of them once adorned churches, monasteries, or homes but were cut apart and removed, later winning the attention of the appreciative and artful eye of John G. Johnson. Today curators, conservators, and scholars diligently reconstruct their histories to understand their original appearance and context and identify their talented makers.

Old Masters Now: Celebrating the Johnson Collection

Christ and the Virgin by Robert Campin, c. 1425-1435, oil and gold on panel, 11 ¼ x 17 ⅞ inches



The Dutch Golden Age

Johnson’s collection of Dutch paintings is among the largest in the world and is especially rich in works by artists like Jan Steen and Jacob van Ruisdael. Research on the art of this period often seeks to determine meaning. We find ourselves asking questions like: Is this painting a depiction of everyday life or a fabricated scene? Is this still life a careful selection of objects loaded with symbolism or a beautiful crafted composition meant to please the eye?

Old Masters Now: Celebrating the Johnson Collection

Dunes by Jacob Isaacksz van Ruisdael, early 1650s, oil on panel, 13 ¼ x 19 ⅜ inches


Impressionism and Beyond

Johnson began collecting in the 1880s by acquiring art of his time. This included French Impressionist paintings and other works brimming with freshness and immediacy. Summer travel through Europe introduced him to a broad range of artists and he bought widely. He didn’t stick to just famous names or movements but rather sought to build a comprehensive collection of what he regarded as modern painting.


Old Masters Now: Celebrating the Johnson Collection

On the Balcony by Mary Stevenson Cassatt, 1873, oil on canvas, 39 ¾ x 32 ½ inches


The John G. Johnson Collection: A History and Selected Works

Available February 1, 2018, this online scholarly publication examines one of the finest collections of European art ever to have been formed in the United States by a private collector. It is published on the centenary of the remarkable bequest of John G. Johnson and the current Old Masters Now: Celebrating the Johnson Collection exhibition.

Through interpretive essays and in-depth examinations of 70 individual artworks, the publication illustrates some of the fascinating breakthroughs in understanding that have emerged from curators’ and conservators’ work researching and caring for the collection over time. Most significantly, the integration of digitized archival materials throughout the publication represents the first time the Museum has made large bodies of primary source material available online, offering researchers new ways to explore the histories of the artworks.

The free digital publication will be available to read online or for download as a PDF. It represents several firsts for the Museum. The complete archives of the Johnson Collection will be available online and searchable independently and together with publication object information. The archival catalogue uses linked data modeling that extends the Museum’s ability to integrate it deeply with collection scholarship and other holdings. The project also includes implementation of IIIF (the International Image Interoperability Framework), an emerging display technology that makes it possible to present high-resolution digital images with deep zoom and could potentially offer the ability for other institutions and users to share images and integrate them into other projects.

For more information on Old Masters Now: Celebrating the Johnson Collection, including related installations and events, visit the exhibition online at:



Old Masters Now: Celebrating the Johnson Collection

Musical Group by Callisto Piazza, 1520s, oil on panel, 35 ⅝ x 35 ¾ inches



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