The Johnson Collection
Face to Face: 200 Years of Portraiture from the Johnson Collection
October 19, 2022 – January 7, 2023
Portraits have functioned throughout history to memorialize powerful and significant figures. Among the portraits in this exhibition are representations of Rachel and Hilmer Schumacher, painted by the artist Joshua Johnson. What do these portraits tell us about how the Schumachers saw themselves, how they wanted us to see them, and how Johnson himself perhaps saw them? Consider that they were painted around 1810 by an African American commissioned by a wealthy white patron. Portrait artists like Johnson need to delicately balance the accurate rendering of their subject’s appearance with whatever messages of power, wealth, status, moral virtue, or beauty they may be charged with conveying. Often, portraits require many tedious hours of in-person sittings as well as awareness of evolving aesthetic trends. Of course, as the genre of portraits has modernized, artists have chosen to portray not just elites, but also their friends, lovers, or even strangers. Nevertheless, all portraits involve a negotiation between the reality of the sitter, the choices of the artist, and the interpretations of a viewer.
Face to Face presents you with the visages of twenty-eight individuals, ranging from oils-on-canvas to woodblock prints, and spanning nearly 200 years of artistic innovation in the American South. Even when one of these faces is unknown, an intimacy may be felt that naturally provokes questions about their true identity. The visual details which an artist provides in a portrait—for example, the subject’s facial expression, their clothing, and the artist’s style—can all function like clues to this identity (or at least how the artist wished to represent that identity). Yet, despite these clues, there may always be aspects of a portrait that remain tantalizingly mysterious.
Hailed by The Magazine Antiques with having staged a “quiet art historical revolution” and expanding “the meaning of regional” through its “exhibitions, loans, publications, and institutional partnerships,” the Johnson Collection seeks to illuminate the rich history and diverse cultures of the American South.
Today, the Johnson Collection counts iconic masterworks among its holdings, as well as representative pieces by an astonishing depth and breadth of artists, native and visiting, whose lives and legacies form the foundation of Southern art history. From William H. Johnson’s Boats in the Harbor to Anni Albers’ Connections, the collection embraces the region’s rich history and confronts its complexities, past and present.
IMAGE: Sondra and Table, Jack Beal (1931–2013), oil on canvas, circa 1970, 66 x 76 1/8 inches