PHILADELPHIA - Masterpieces gifted to the city of Philadelphia 100 years ago are being featured this month and next at the Philadelphia Museum Art.
Old Masters Now is a major exhibition focusing on one of the finest collections of European art ever formed in the United States by a private collector.
John G. Johnson was a 20th century Philadelphia lawyer once described by the New York Times as "the greatest lawyer in the English-speaking world."
"Johnson was the most famous lawyer of his day," said Jennifer Thompson, Curator of the John G. Johnson Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "He represented companies like American Tobacco, Standard Oil, J.P. Morgan & Company...."
He was also known for his esteemed art collection, which included nearly 1500 pieces of European artwork and sculpture dating back to the 12th century.
"Really, he spans the gambit through the early Netherlandish all the way through to the Impressionists," said Thomspson.
Johnson turned his South Broad Street home into a museum, filling it with artwork from his collection.
The house was filled "literally attic to the basement with art," said Thompson.
"Paintings were hung literally frame-to-frame," she continued. "Many people who visited his house commented on the fact that he had paintings stacked up in his bedroom and bathrooms and closets - every available surface."
When he died a century ago, Johnson gifted the collection to the city. Nearly 100 of those works are on view in Old Masters Now.
"We have works by artists such as Rogier van der Weyden, Jan van Eyck, Titian, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet," said Thompson. "600 years of European painting and sculpture (are) represented here. So everything from about 1300 up to 1900."
When visiting the exhibition, viewers can learn firsthand how conservators study and care for the artwork as it ages over time.
"It's really an exhibition hoping to give visitors a flavor for both Johnson's collection and the work that we as staff do with the collection today," said Thompson.
Old Masters Now is on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through February 19th.
For tickets and museum hours, visit theartsinphilly.org .
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