Eastman Johnson, 1824-1906
- Dates: January 18, 1940 through February 26, 1940
- Collections: American Art
Date unknown, approximately 1939: The virtual re-discovery of an important American painter of portraits and homely scenes, generally known as genre, will be shown at the Brooklyn Museum, January 18th through February 25th. This artist is Eastman Johnson, who lived from 1824 to 1906, thus spanning several important phases of the country’s history.
As a result of the research done by the Museum’s Curator of Painting and Sculpture, John I. H. Baur, a list of this artist’s work has been about doubled over what was generally known before. This nearly exhaustive list, along with a detailed life of Johnson, will be included in the catalogue which the Museum will publish for the exhibition. About 100 of the 400 listed works will be shown including portraits, scenes, drawings and intimate working sketches found in his studio after his death.
Johnson was a native of Lovell, Maine, where he was born in 1824. He went to Washington in 1845, where he did crayon portraits of many of the nation’s notables. In 1849 he went to Dusseldorf and worked with Leutze, known principally in this country for the painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware”. The story is that he had difficulty when it came to the proper costumes for the picture which was overcome by Eastman Johnson’s help in writing home for a copy of Washington’s uniform, from Dusseldorf he went to the Hague where he was offered the post of court painter and was sometimes known as the American Rembrandt from the style of his work.
On his return to the United States he was probably influenced by the Fenimore Cooper vogue and went to Lake Superior on two different trips where he painted scenes peopled by members of the Chippewa tribe. After that he returned to New York and began producing the pictures which gave him his popular fame such as “The Old Kentucky Home”. Trips to Maine resulted in the series illustrating, the festival of making maple sugar. The location of numerous studies for this set is one of the outstanding accomplishments of Mr. Baur’s recent research.
Starting in 1870, he made Nantucket his summer home which resulted in such pictures as “A Glass with the Squire”, “Cranberry Pickers” and “The Nantucket School of Philosophy”.
The exhibition demonstrates the various phases in the development of his style from the Rembrandtesque technique of his students years, through the rather tight handling of the 60’s and to the remarkably free work of the Nantucket scenes.
Many of the pictures have been in private collections and not publicly exhibited since they were painted. Johnson’s popularity, in his lifetime, is evidenced by the wide distribution of his pictures which were located in states throughout the continent including Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, District of Columbia, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and California.
January 6, 1940: A comprehensive exhibition of the work of Eastman Johnson, well known 19th Century American genre and portrait painter, will go on public view at the Brooklyn Museum January 18 through February 25. It will open with an invitation preview for Museum members and their guests on Wednesday afternoon, January 17. This exhibition will be the most complete one of the works of Eastman Johnson ever to be given and along with it a catalogue will be published listing some 400 works, the majority of which have not been generally known to the art field.
Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1939 - 1941. 01-02/1940, 002. View Original
January 11, 1940: The Eastman Johnson Exhibition will be ready for reviewers to see beginning Monday morning, January 15th, in the Special Exhibitions Gallery. Catalogues and photographs will be available at the Information Desk.
The exhibition opens with a preview to Museum Members and their guests on Wednesday afternoon, January 17th, and will open to the public the 18th to run through February 25th.
Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1939 - 1941. 01-02/1940, 007. View Original
January 17, 1940: A large exhibition of the works of Eastman Johnson, well known American portrait and genre painter, who lived from 1824 to 1906, will be seen at a private view for Members of the Brooklyn Museum and their guests at the Museum on Wednesday afternoon. The exhibition will open to the public Thursday, the 18th, and will run through February 25th.
NOTE: Samples of the pictures in the form of proofs from the catalogue are enclosed. Complete release of the opening for release Thursday, January 18, will be in your morning mail Wednesday, January 17.
Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1939 - 1941. 01-02/1940, 011. View Original
Date unknown, approximately 1940: Eastman Johnson is best remembered by most people for such pictures as the “Old Kentucky Home,” “The Wounded Drummer Boy” and “Corn Husking Bee” rather than for his portraits. His genre paintings were in most private collections of the 60’s and 70’s. The list of his portraits cover a period that starts with the sixth and extends to the twenty-fourth of our presidents, a veritable Who’s Who of the 19th Century in this country. Interest is slowly gathering in his work and the comprehensive exhibition of his work arranged by the Brooklyn Museum from January 18th through February 25th is the first of its kind ever to be held.
Moreover, the life of Johnson has never before been assembled into one detailed chronological account as has been done by Mr. John I. H. Baur, Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum, who organized this exhibition. Mr. Baur has done exhaustive research on Johnson’s life and work with the result that the most complete catalogue of his work so far can be published in the exhibition catalogue. This research was done with the assistance of the family some of whom wrote from as far away as France and Egypt.
The artist’s full name was Jonathan Eastman Johnson but he soon dropped the first name. He was born in Lovell, Maine, near the New Hampshire border in August, 1824. His father was Philip Carrigan Johnson and his mother, Mary Chandler. Whi1e Eastman was young the family moved to Fryeburg where his father carried on his work as Secretary of the State of Maine. Eastman had two brothers and five sisters. His brother became a Commodore in the U. S. Navy.
Eastman completed his schooling in Augusta in 1839. He tried working in a dry goods store in Concord, N. H. “where manifested a natural taste for drawing and painting”. In 1840 he decided to take up drawing and went into Bufford’s lithography shop in Boston which was the same one in which Winslow Homer later served his apprenticeship. He did not take to the trade and returned to his family in Augusta in 1842 to hang out his shingle as an independent artist ready to accept portrait commissions. He had immediate success. This was before cameras and he worked in pencil or crayon at modest prices.
FAMOUS SITTERS IN WASHINGTON
By 1845 he moved to Washington, D.C., where the field was more lucrative and where his father expected to go. In 1846 Johnson senior became Chief Clerk of the Bureau of Construction and Repair in the Navy. The young artist continued to receive commissions, this time from eminent persons such as Mrs. Alexander Hamilton and Mrs. James (Dolly) Madison and John Quincy Adams. A copy of the Madison portrait was made for Daniel Webster who later posed for Johnson and Healy in a vacant room in the basement of the Capitol. In spite of the fact that Webster fell asleep he made a profound impression on the artist because he was a most magnificent man physically, and of very impressive features.” Dolly Madison told him about such friends of hers as Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. There was no other period in Johnson’s life where success came as quickly and with more excitement. His work began to show a considerable change.
For three years after the summer of 1846 Johnson lived in Boston, probably at the invitation of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. While there he did all of the poet’s family as well as his intimate group of friends. Longfellow was particularly pleased with his own portrait.
DUSSELDORF ART SCHOOL
After experimenting in oil painting he decided to study it in Dusseldorf which was the popular center for students then. He enrolled in the Royal Academy under Schadow in 1849. The training there reappeared in his genre paintings of the 60’s. He struck up a close friendship with Emanuel Leutze who was working on his now famous “Washington Crossing the Delaware”. Johnson shared his studio with him, and when Leutze ran into difficulties with costume detail, Johnson had his father order Washington’s uniform copied by a tailor in the Capital and send it to Leutze in Germany.
KNOWN AS “THE AMERICAN REMBRANDT” AT THE HAGUE
In the summer of 1851 he left Dusseldorf for the Hague where he stayed three and a half years and hit his stride as a painter. He became interested in the work of Rembrandt, Hals and Van Dyck, some of whose work he copied. His own painting soon showed the result of those influences in such canvasses as “Old Waterloo Soldier”, “Brabant Peasant” and “Savoyard Boy”. He also experimented with more elaborate genre subjects in the Dutch tradition. Ho became known as the “American Rembrandt” and gained such a reputation that he was offered the position of court painter. While in the Hague, August Belmont, who was there as U. S. Minister, commissioned him to do drawings of himself and his wife.
CHIPPEWA INDIANS AS SUBJECTS
He did not accept the court commission as he wanted to study in Paris where he joined friends in August 1855. But he had been there only two months when his mother died and he returned to be with his father in Washington. Soon after this he made the first of his two trips to Superior, Wisconsin, to visit his sister and to paint Indians of the Chippewa tribe. The second trip, the most productive, was in 1856. He worked on Pokogama. Bay near Superior and at Grand Portage. This work was important stylistically as it showed a greater freedom and brighter color range than anything he had done previously and fore-cast painting which he was to do ten years later after a period of tight genre pictures which he started soon after the trip.
He apparently had lost his own and some of his father’s money in land speculation so returned east to recoup the family fortunes. He went to Cincinnati where he set up as a portraitist again. Even though hard up at times he stuck to his price of seventy-five dollars a portrait.
HIS MOST FAMOUS PICTURE
On his return to Washington in 1859 he found the subject for his first really ambitious genre piece and perhaps his most famous painting, the “Old Kentucky Home”. He called it “Negro Life at the South” but later the more popular name became attached to it. This work in its tight handling and restricted use of color is considered to mark a retrogression in his style. However it met with immediate success and its exhibition in the National Academy in New York in 1859 was responsible for his election as an Associate. The next year he was made a full Academician and exhibited with the organization for forty years.
Between 1859 and 1860 he took a studio in the old University Building on Washington Square. When the Civil War broke out he did not join the army but followed it looking for subjects to paint. He was present at three important battles, Bull Hurt 1862, Antietam.
September 17th, 1862 and Gettysburg. Resulting pictures were “A Ride for Liberty-The Fugitive Slaves”, “The Wounded Drummer Boy”. The story that suggested the last is that a drummer boy lay wounded on the field and called to his comrades “Carry me and I’ll drum her through”. So they tied up his wound, a big soldier took him on his shoulders and he drummed through the fight.
“Girl Picking Water Lilies”, painted in the middle 60’s sums up all “he had accomplished in the first part of the decade and much of what he was to achieve in the next fifteen years.”
MAPLE SUGAR MAKING
Among his most important groups, difficult to date accurately, but done in this period, are the scenes illustrating the making of maple sugar with the festivities that accompanied it in the woods near Fryeburg, Maine. It is thought certain that he did the finished works in his New York studio from preliminary sketches on the spot. He evidently expected to make these studios into a single picture, the salon “masterpiece” of those days. He made as many as forty scones for the purpose. The output of this period of intense interest in genre subjects shows that Johnson though anecdotal was not photographic.
In 1870 he married Elizabeth Buckley of Troy, moved uptown to the house he lived in the rest of his life at 65 West 55th Street, and discovered Nantucket where he spent many summers and “where many of his best pictures were painted.” “The best approach to the culmination of his work in genre is a group of intimate little pictures done at various intervals from about 1873 to 1879 in Kennebunkport,” They compare to the early work of Winslow Homer. The development of those two men was contemporaneous and it is difficult to say which influenced the other. As late as 1898 Homer was measured against the established standards of Johnson in the “The Studio” of that year. His work was proclaimed as “almost equal to Eastman Johnson at his best”. “They both represent the advance guard of a now trend in American painting.”
BACK TO PORTRAITS OF FAMOUS PEOPLE
By the end of the 80’s Johnson for financial reasons had to spend more time on portraits than on genre subjects but the quality of the genre paintings remained high. The portraits in many cases were dull except when he was painting a subject that really interested him. Some of the sitters wore Grover Cleveland and General Miles, and the artist’s nephew has written that he “once posed for John D. Rockefeller’s pants and one of Vanderbilt’s arms”. It is recorded that at this time Johnson received $5000 for a full length portrait, $1500 for a head and shoulders and as high as $10,000 for a family group.
Toward the end of his life he did some travelling with his family in Europe. He was “a short, rotund little man” remembered by his younger friends for his humor and kindness in helping other artists. His memory still lives at the Century Club for his story-telling and his capacity for beer. But the constant work at portraits finally pulled on him and he worked only with a distinct effort. He died quietly and instantly on April 6, 1906. Among his pall bearers were Frederick Dielman, George Henry Hall, Seth Low and J. Alden Weir.
In summarizing, Mr. Baur says of the sentimentality of some of his genre work that “the ago must be invoked” for it “and in comparison with some of his contemporaries he must have seamed almost austere. Certainly his pictures in themselves are far less sentimental than the effusions with which they were sometimes greeted in the popular press.” A particularly nauseating example is then quoted. At its best Johnson’s work “rose entirely above sentimentality of any kind and was strong, clean painting in a particularly native American idiom.”
Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1939 - 1941. 11-12/1939, 333-7. View Original 1 . View Original 2 . View Original 3 . View Original 4 . View Original 5
January 18, 1940: An exhibition which is a virtual rediscovery of Eastman Johnson, an important American painter of portraits and homely scenes, generally known as genre, opened yesterday afternoon at the Brooklyn Museum with a private view to Museum Members and invited guests. Rear Admiral Alfred W. Johnson, U.S.N., nephew of the artist, was guest of honor. The exhibition will run through Sunday, February 25th.
Although the exhibition is made up of 73 oils and 32 drawings, the catalogue, which has been published for the occasion, contains a list of over 500 works. This piece of documentation has been prepared from research done by the Museum’s Curator of Painting and Sculpture, Mr. John I. H. Baur, who arranged the exhibition. The result is a list of the artist’s work twice as large as has ever been known before.
Many of the pictures shown have been in private collections and not publicly exhibited since they were painted. Johnson’s popularity, in his lifetime, is evidenced by the wide distribution of his pictures which were located in states throughout the continent including Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, District of Columbia, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and California.
At one time Johnson was intimate with Longfellow’s circle famous as “The Mutual Admiration Society” and as a result did several portraits of the members of it, who were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Sumner and Cornelius Conway Fulton. An important group of these portrait drawings listed in the catalogue but not on exhibition were discovered in the Craigie House, Longfellow’s residence in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Excerpts from Longfellow’ s unpublished Journal and Letters provided by Mr. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana have described in some detail the execution of these portraits, which were all commissioned by Longfellow.
Other useful data was supplied by Mr. Perry Belmont who made available a notation from the unpublished diary of his mother, Mrs. August Belmont, which described her meeting with Johnson as a young artist in the Hague when her husband was American minister there.
During two periods of his life Johnson specialized in portraits, first when he went to Washington in 1846 and the last toward the end of his life. An idea of the span of years which he covered, from the sixth to the twenty-fourth president, and the historical events which took place during his lifetime is gained from a partial list of his portraits which include Mrs. Alexander Hamilton, Mrs. James (Dolly) Madison, John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Chester A. Arthur, Edwin Booth, six portraits of Grover Cleveland, Charles Dickens, Joseph Wesley Harper, the publisher, Benjamin Harrison, Seth Low, Bishop Henry C. Potter, George M. Pullman, Cornelius Vanderbilt and William H. Vanderbilt.
Johnson a native of Lovell, Maine, where he was born in 1824. He went to Washington in 1846, where he did crayon portraits as mentioned above. After that he lived for a while in Boston, where he met Longfellow and his circle. In 1849 he went to Dusseldorf and worked with Leutze, known principally in this country for his famous version of "Washington Crossing the Delaware." The story is that he had difficulty when it came to the proper costumes for the picture which was overcome by Eastman Johnson’s help in writing home for a copy of Washington’s uniform. From Dusseldorf he went to the Hague where he was offered the post of court painter and was sometimes known as the American Rembrandt from the style of his work.
On his return to the United States he was probably influenced by the Fenimore Cooper vogue and went to Lake Superior on two different trips where he painted scenes peopled by members of the Chippewa tribe. After that he returned to New York and began producing the pictures which gave him his popular fame such as “The Old Kentucky Home.” Trips to Maine resulted in the series illustrating the festival of making maple sugar. The location of numerous studios for this set is one of the outstanding accomplishments of Mr. Baur’s recent research.
Starting in 1870, he made Nantucket his second home which resulted in such pictures as “A Glass with the Squire,” “Cranberry Pickers” and “The Nantucket School of Philosophy.”
The exhibition demonstrates the various phases in the development of his style from the Rembrandtesque technique of his student years, through the rather tight handling of the 60’s and to the remarkably free work of the Nantucket scenes.
NOTE: A condensed life of the artist in 5 release pages is available if desired.