Fenimore Art Museum to Support Eastman Johnson Catalogue Raisonné Project

 In Press Releases

Fenimore Art Museum to Support Eastman Johnson Catalogue Raisonné Project Funded by The Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts

Contact: Todd Kenyon, Director of Marketing and Communications
Fenimore Art Museum
(607) 547-1472


(COOPERSTOWN, N.Y.) —The Fenimore Art Museum is pleased to announce that The Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts has approved the Fenimore Art Museum’s grant request of $186,330 to support the Eastman Johnson Catalogue Raisonné Project directed by Patricia Hills.  The funds will be used to complete the research and transfer the information from an electronic database to a website platform accessible to the public.  Completion of the project is projected to be January 1, 2021.

“I have long admired Eastman Johnson’s work, as we have three exceptional examples in the collection,” said Dr. Paul S. D’Ambrosio, Fenimore Art Museum President and CEO. “We are very pleased to facilitate his catalogue raisonné and are thrilled to be working with Dr. Hills and The Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts to make it a reality.”

Eastman Johnson (1824-1906) was a leading genre and portrait painter of the middle-to-late 19th century.  He was born in Maine and began his career as a portrait draughtsman, working in Maine, Washington DC, and Boston.  In 1849 he went to Europe to learn to paint and study the Old Masters.  He stayed two years in Düsseldorf, studying with Emanuel Leutze, then moved to The Hague where he established himself as a portrait painter.  In 1855 he decided to relocate to Paris to study with Thomas Couture, who worked in a modern style for those times.  His stay was cut short when he received news his mother had died.  He thus returned to the U.S. in late 1855, living first in Washington, where his family then resided, and then moving to New York City to advance his art career. He became known as a genre painter of American scenes, and his paintings of African Americans were highly praised.  He was one of the first of his generation to draw and paint the Ojibwe in the Lake Superior area.  He became an Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1859, the year he exhibited his masterwork Negro Life at the South; the following year he was elected a full Academician. During the war years he followed the Union troops and painted scenes he had witnessed.  He also took time off to paint the maple sugar spring harvest in Maine in the early 1860s.  After 1871 he spent summers in Nantucket, where he painted his series of the cranberry fall harvest.  The last twenty years of his life he spent primarily as a portraitist.  He was active in New York art organizations, belonged to The Century Club and The Union League Club, and was a founding trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Today we see Johnson as a painter who brought more sophisticated painting techniques to America, who extended the range of “American” subjects, often transforming traditional European themes, and who brought a more dignified and democratic content to genre painting.  He spoke to and for his own generation, and he was a great influence on a number of genre painters such as Thomas Waterman Wood, J. G. Brown, Thomas Hovenden, George C. Lambdin, and the young Winslow Homer.

The Eastman Johnson Catalogue Raisonné will aid scholars, curators, students, and the general public who are researching one of the most important painters of his generation.  For example, he did over 30 paintings of African Americans during the late 1850s and 1860s, including Negro Life at the South (New-York Historical Society); numerous Civil War genre scenes; dozens of genre paintings of American farmers and rural domestic scenes; scenes of women in gardens and at the seashore; and over 300 portraits of leading New York business and civic leaders (including Jay Gould, John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and William Vanderbilt), actors (Edwin Booth), and four US Presidents (Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, Harrison).  He also did some 80 portraits of women, as well as portraits of children and group portraits.  He was the best portrait draughtsman in the United States in the 1840s (before he went to Europe to learn to paint) and made the earliest drawings of the Obijwa in the Lake Superior region.

History of the Project:  Art historian Patricia Hills, Professor Emerita at Boston University where she taught for 36 years, began the project in 1971 with her research on Eastman Johnson for her doctoral dissertation (PhD, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU).  She organized the Eastman Johnson exhibition, which opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art in March 1972, and traveled to the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Cincinnati Art Museum, and the Milwaukee Art Center.  In 1999 she was invited to co-curate the exhibition Eastman Johnson:  Painting America, which opened at The Brooklyn Museum, and traveled to the San Diego Museum of Art and the Seattle Art Museum.  Over the years she has added to her Johnson files and has consulted with museums, galleries, auction houses, and private collectors on works by Johnson.

Research Associate Abigael MacGibeny (MA, Boston University) will assist Dr. Hills in the completion of the project.  In 2016 the project received funds from the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, and, in 2018, a small travel grant from the Boston University Society of Retired Faculty and Staff.


About Fenimore Art Museum
Fenimore Art Museum, located on the shores of Otsego Lake—James Fenimore Cooper’s “Glimmerglass”—in historic Cooperstown, New York, features a wide-ranging collection of American art including folk art; important American 18th- and 19th-century landscape, genre, and portrait paintings; more than 125,000 historic photographs representing the technical developments made in photography and providing extensive visual documentation of the region’s unique history; and the renowned Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art comprised of nearly 900 art objects representative of a broad geographic range of North American Indian cultures, from the Northwest Coast, Eastern Woodlands, Plains, Southwest, Great Lakes, and Prairie regions. Visit FenimoreArt.org.




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