Art Treasures of Washington – The Harriet Lane Johnston Collection

THE collection of Harriet Lane Johnston, who died on July 3, 1903, was received and placed on exhibition in August of that year. It contains the following paintings : ” Madonna and Child,” by Bernardo Luini ; ” Portrait of Mrs. Hammond,” by Sir Joshua Reynolds.; ” Portrait of Miss Kirkpatrick,” by George Romney; ” Portrait of Lady Essex as Juliet,” by Sir Thomas Lawrence; ” Portrait of Mrs. Abington,” by John Hoppner; ” Portrait of Miss Murray,” by Sir William Beechy ; ” Portrait of the Prince of Wales (King Edward V.11),” by Sir John Watson Gordon; ” The Val-ley Farm,” by John Constable; ” Madonna and Child,” after the manner of Correggio ; ” Portrait of Madame Tulp,” by Cornelis van Kuelen (Janssens) ; ” Portrait of Josepha Boegart,” by Francis Pourbus, the Younger; ” Independence,” by Klaus Meyer; ” A Street Scene in the East,” by -Edwin Lord Weeks; ” The Prince of Wales and President Buchanan at the Tomb of Washington, Mount Vernon, 1860)” by Thomas P. Rossiter; ” Portrait of President Buchanan,” by Jacob Eichholtz ; ” Miniature of President Buchanan,” by John Henry Brown; and ” Portrait of James Buchanan Johnston,” by Harper Pennington. The collection also includes several articles of historical interest, and three pieces of sculpture;. namely, a bust of President Buchanan, by Henry Dexter, and a bust of Henry Elliot Johnston and a full-length of Henry Elliot Johnston, Jr., at the age of two years, by William Henry Rinehart.

The collection is largely one of English masters of the eighteenth century, and bears the natural traces of Mrs. Johnston’s public life as the companion of her illustrious uncle. The clou of the collection is the handsome portrait of Miss Kirkpatrick, by George Romney, purchased from the family of the sitter. The portrait is a graceful and simple delineation of a young woman of great personal charm. The pose is easy, and characteristic of Romney, who delighted in painting the beautiful women of the British aristocracy, as well as famous actresses of the period, imparting to their countenances an almost ideal feminine quality of naive loveliness. This canvas contains some very clever painting and beautiful colour. The lady wears a drab costume, verging on mauve ; while about the neck are some exquisite touches where the fabric melts into the flesh tones. The whole is technically brilliant; the mouth masterly in its simple treatment, especially the lower lip.

John Hoppner’s portrait of Mrs. Abington is an interesting canvas, painted with style and elegance. The sitter is a fresh faced, brown-eyed woman, wearing the powdered wig of the period.

” Lady Essex as Juliet,” by Sir Thomas Lawrence, is a three-quarter length portrait of a beautiful woman in character, exhibiting much masterly handling, with due respect paid to the Shakespearean text. The scene is early evening with the crescent moon in the sky; and Juliet, upon the balcony, leans her cheek upon her nand in the traditional manner. The pose is a little stiff and theatrical.

Sir John Watson Gordon’s portrait of the Prince of Wales (King Edward VII), is more interesting for its history than its artistic value. The portrait was presented to Mr. Buchanan, by the young prince, as a souvenir of his visit to the United States, in 1860. The collection preserves two letters from Queen Victoria to President Buchanan relative to the royal visit, arid also the prince’s let-ter which accompanied the portrait. The latter, under date of March 29, 1862, begs that Mr. Buchanan will accept ” the accompanying portrait as a slight mark of my grateful recollection of the hospitable reception and agreeable visit at the White House on the occasion of my tour in the United States.”

The portrait of President Buchanan by Jacob Eichholtz, represents the sitter at about the age of forty years, having been painted just before his departure as American Minister to Saint Peters-burg. It is strong in character, and typical of the painter’s smooth manner.

The portrait of Madame Tulp is by Janssens, a Dutch painter of the seventeenth century, who achieved some distinction in England, where he painted many portraits, including several of James I, into whose service he was taken. The canvas is a spirited example of the portraiture of the period.

The Pourbus bequeathed by Mrs. Johnston has been liberally restored, if not completely repainted, and would be difficult of identification. It purports to be a portrait of Josepha Boegart, who was lady in waiting to Marie de Medici, wife of Henry IV of France. The costume and style of the picture carries out the period and rank of the sitter.

” Madonna and Child ” is a beautiful canvas, done in the graceful manner of the school of Leonardo da Vinci, and attributed to Bernardo Luini.

Amongst the miscellaneous paintings acquired by the National Gallery are two portraits by George P. A. Healy, an American portrait painter, which came to the nation in the early history of the Smithsonian Institution. The first is a full-length portrait of F. P. G. Guizot, the celebrated author and minister of Louis Philippe, which was presented to the government by the American citizens residing in Paris, in 1842. It was intended as a memorial of their gratitude to the distinguished historian of the great progress of civilization, for his French translation of the life and writings of Washington. The subscribers to the fund for the purchase of the portrait desired it to be placed in one of the public edifices in the capital of the United States, where it could be seen by the largest number of its people. It cost about two thousand francs, each subscription being limited to fifty francs. It was brought to this country by Captain Franck, of the ship Oneida, who declined to receive any compensation for freight and other charges.

The disposition of the portrait was left to President Tyler, who turned it over to the National Institute, June 21, 1842. It was painted in 1841, and, together with the portrait of President Tyler, executed by Healy, is one of the most distinguished canvases ever painted by this most prolific artist.

George Peter Alexander Healy (1813-1894) was a native of Boston, Massachusetts. He went to Paris in 1836 and remained there several years, with occasional visits to the United States; and there he painted many distinguished people, including the French monarch, Louis Philippe. His large historical composition of ” Webster’s Reply to Haynes” which contains one hundred and thirty portraits, was completed in 1851, and now hangs in Faneuil Hall, Boston. At the Paris International Exposition of 1855 he exhibited a series of thirteen portraits, and a large picture representing Franklin urging the claims of the American colonies before Louis XVI.

He has been characterized as ” one of the best American portrait painters of the French School,” but the virtue of his inherent talents has been much obscured by the quantity of perfunctory work that is signed with his name. In twenty years he painted nearly six hundred portraits, with results that can well be imagined. At his best Healy was a painter of vigorous parts, but without subtlety or much refinement of colour. In the portrait of President Tyler he reveals much strength of drawing and firm character throughout. It was presented to the government with that of William C. Preston, United States Senator from South Carolina, 1833-’843, also by Healy, in 1842.

The circumstances of this gift are described in the records of the Institute, of which the following is an extract : ” At a meeting of the Institute on December 12, 1842, Col. J. J. Abert made the following announcement ` During the last spring, Mr. Healy, a distinguished American painter, who had been many years occupied in Europe in the study of his art, was deputed by the King of France to visit our city for the purpose of taking a copy of Stuart’s Washington, a painting in the house of the president 1 On his arrival it occurred to several of us to take advantage of this opportunity for obtaining ‘specimens of his art from Mr. Healy in the portraits of some of our distinguished citizens, known friends of the Institute, to be presented to the Institute. We accordingly proposed a subscription for two portraits, one of the president of the United States, a patron of the Institute, the other of the Honourable Mr. Preston, its ardent, intelligent, and efficient friend. Having obtained the consent of these gentlemen, and having engaged Mr. Healy for the work, the portraits were made, and are now presented to the Institute in the names of those on the annexed list.’ ”

There were thirty-six subscribers, whose names were appended, of whom thirty-five paid ten dollars each, and one five, making the entire amount contributed $355. The sum of $300 was paid to the artist for the two pictures, while the remainder was expended for frames and other incidentals.

” Job and his Comforters,” attributed to Jose de Ribera (Lo Spagnoletto), was presented to the National Institution by Dr. Robert W. Gibbes, of Columbia, South Carolina, in December, 1841. The subject is Job in his affliction surrounded by his comforters.

The National Gallery owns the full-length portrait of Washington, by Charles Willson Peale, which hangs in the Capitol. It is one of the repetitions of Peale’s original portrait of the president, painted for the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, from sittings in Philadelphia in 1778, and now in the possession of Mr. Thomas McKean. The canvas in the Capitol bears the date 1779, and the signature of the artist. Its early history has never been satisfactorily explained; but it was evidently sent to Europe to be sold, probably in the same year that it was painted. It was brought back to this country from France by Julius, Count de Menou, from whom it was purchased, in October, 1841, by Mr. Charles B. Calvert, of Prince George County, Maryland, for the sum of two hundred dollars. The latter placed it in the National Institute in Washington, and in 1862 it was turned over to the Smithsonian Institute. It was sent to Philadelphia in 1876 for the Centennial Exhibition ; and remained at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts until 1881, when it was recalled to the Smithsonian, and lent to the Corcoran Gallery of Art. A claim to ownership of the picture by Titian R. Peale, a son of Charles Willson Peale, was decided adversely by the Board of Regents in 1873; but in 1882 Congress appropriated $5,000 in settlement of the claim, and the portrait was transferred to the Capitol.

Among other paintings belonging to the Gallery are F. E. Church’s ” Aurora Borealis,” presented by Miss Eleanor Blodgett; Adrien Moreau’s ” Crossing the Ferry,” the gift of Mrs. James Lowndes ; Lucien W. Powell’s ” Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone,” contributed by the Honourable J. B. Henderson; and Max Weyl’s ” Indian Summer Day,” presented by thirty of his friends.