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Johnson Collection Curatorial Records

Identifier: JCC

Scope and Contents

The Johnson Collection Curatorial Records represent two "generations" of curatorial oversight. The earlier files reflect the administrative and curatorial activities of Henri Marceau and Barbara Sweeny, roughly documenting their combined years of service, 1926-1972. Joseph J. Rishel succeeded Sweeny as Johnson Collection curator in November of 1972. His tenure defines the second curatorial term, from 1973 to 1992. A small amount of papers created later are included separately. The second generation of records also documents the work of assistant and associate curators; namely, Irene Konefal, Louise Lippincott, Carl Strehlke and Lawrence Nichols.

Both the "Correspondence" and "Subject" series are subdivided by the curatorial date spans noted above. Both address topics, among others, of attribution and biographical research, general collection management and care, and office administration. The 1926-1972 correspondence subseries contains a significant amount of communication between the curators and the Pennsylvania Company, the Trustee of the Johnson Collection. In the latter subseries are several folders of memoranda between Johnson curatorial staff and personnel from a number of departments within the museum. Both subseries have numerous requests, most of which are incoming, for photographs of works of art. In addition to correspondence, both subseries of the "Subject" series include photographs, notes, clippings and other papers. Records comprising the "Exhibitions, loans and events" series are divided by two similar date spans. In both subseries, documentation of exhibitions organized by PMA and other museums consists of correspondence, photographs, draft writings, forms and reports. The only "event" documented here is a dinner hosted by the Pennsylvania Company in 1970.

The "Publications" series consists of material related to catalogs and greeting cards produced before 1973 and for sale in the Johnson Collection store. Other published references to the Johnson Collection make up the largest part of the "Writings" series in the form of newspaper, magazine and scholarly journal articles. These clippings include contemporary accounts of John G. Johnson, describing his legal career and art collection, as well as some of the most recent writings about his life and works of art.

The "Operations and facilities" series describes the maintenance and guardianship of the galleries and storage of the Johnson Collection as well as collection management practices and procedures, many of which could only be carried out with Court approval. Documentation includes personnel correspondence, gallery reports, art and library collection inventories, legal documents, auction catalogs and notes. Early conservation records are processed under the series by that name and consist primarily of oversized images showing painting details and various stages of conservation work. Later conservation records, primarily examination and condition reports, are included in the 1973-1992 subseries of the "Subjects" series.

The final series of photographic material is the largest in the collection, consisting primarily of 8x10 glass plate negatives and copy prints of objects in the John G. Johnson Art Collection. Although this material is not dated, some of the negatives reveal the setting in which the works of art were photographed, presumably Johnson's home, indicating that they were created prior to the 1933 move.


  • 1917-2007, undated
  • Majority of material found within 1927-1992


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research with the following exceptions. Valuations and conservation (condition) reports are restricted, with access at discretion of the archivist. Personnel records are permanently restricted. Because of their poor condition, cracked or broken glass plate negatives are also restricted but they have all been digitized.

Conditions Governing Use

The Johnson Collection Curatorial Records are the physical property of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. The Museum holds literary rights only for material created by Museum personnel or given to the Museum with such rights specifically assigned. For all other material, literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining permission from rights holders for publication and for other purposes where stated.

Biographical / Historical

Corporate lawyer and art collector John Graver Johnson (1846-1917) amassed a distinguished collection of nearly 1,600 European paintings, sculpture and textiles over the course of approximately three decades. In his will, Johnson left his art collection, art library and home at 510 South Broad Street to the City of Philadelphia, and named the Pennsylvania Company for Insurances on Lives and Granting Annuities as Trustee of his residual estate. A 1917 codicil to the will mandated that the collection remain installed in his home unless an extraordinary situation should arise, making a move necessary. To oversee the collection, Edward Hamilton Bell (1857-1929) was appointed its first curator around 1920. Bell assumed the position after serving for two years as acting director of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Arts (which, since 1938, has operated as the Philadelphia Museum of Art).

As early as 1919, legal proceedings began, and by 1921 an official petition was placed before the Orphans' Court of Philadelphia for permanent relocation of the collection and the sale of the 510 S. Broad St. property. The plea was grounded in the fact that the cost of renovation that the property required in order to house the collection safely would exceed available funds. The petition was dismissed, and the City proceeded with renovation projects to the extent afforded by the limited budget.

By 1933, the Depression had added an overwhelming burden to the maintenance of the deteriorating property. An informal proposition to display the collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art was then agreed upon by the City and Trustee of the collection. Subsequently, the property was sold and the City and Trustee entered into a lease agreement with the museum. The Johnson Collection was to be displayed and stored at the museum in concordance with museum hours and operations. The Trustee was responsible for rent payments and providing guardianship for the collection as well as paying maintenance costs, including contributions to the general Restoration Fund of the Museum. The Trustee would continue its role as custodian and administrator of the collection.

In 1926, Henri Marceau (1896-1969) was appointed assistant curator of the Johnson Collection. Two years later he was promoted to curator. Some sources cite 1927 or 1929 as the date of the latter appointment. He was also an assistant professor at University of Pennsylvania's School of Fine Arts from 1925 until 1929, when he took on the additional role of Curator of Fine Arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 1933 Marceau's position at the museum was revised to Curator of Paintings, and then to Chief, Department of Paintings and Sculpture in 1937. At this time he was also appointed Associate Director, taking on full directorship of the museum from 1955 to 1964. Marceau maintained his role as curator of the Johnson Collection throughout and beyond these various appointments, until his death. Assisting Marceau, Barbara Sweeny (1904-1991) joined the Johnson Collection staff in the late 1920s as a secretary. By 1955, she was appointed associate curator.

With Sweeny's assistance, Marceau oversaw the 1933-1934 relocation and installation of the collection in the allocated galleries and storage spaces at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as well as the construction of additional gallery and storage space between 1939 and 1941. Together they organized several exhibitions featuring works from the Johnson Collection including "Flemish Painting," "Vienna Art Treasures" and "Flanders in the 15th Century," and oversaw the revision of the original Italian and Dutch and Flemish catalogues, published in 1966 and 1972, respectively, and the production of a Book of Illustrations in 1953. Upon Marceau's death, Sweeny assumed the position of curator and remained as such until her retirement in 1972.

The next "generation" of Johnson Collection curatorship began with Joseph J. Rishel. Rishel came to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1971 as Associate Curator of Painting before 1900. By the following November, he was also serving as curator to the Johnson Collection. Overseeing the department since its inception in 1973, Rishel was also the museum's Gisela and Dennis Alter Senior Curator of European Painting before 1900, and the Senior Curator of the John G. Johnson Collection and the Rodin Museum. Irene Konefal joined the Johnson Collection staff in 1973 as assistant curator and secretary. Upon her departure in 1980, Louise (Lulu) Lippincott assumed the same curatorial role and remained in that position until early 1983. That spring, Carl B. Strehlke accepted the position of assistant curator of the John G. Johnson Collection. A few years later, he was named adjunct curator (a position he holds to this day), and Lawrence W. Nichols joined the staff to take over the assistant curator post. Nichols was appointed associate curator in 1992 and left some time the following year. Jennifer Thompson currently serves as the curator of the John G. Johnson collection.

Between the years of 1972 and 1993, the Johnson Collection curatorial staff organized three exhibitions at the museum devoted exclusively to John G. Johnson and his collected works of art. Reflecting the diversity of Johnson's tastes and acquisitions, these were: "Paintings from Siena" (December 1984-February 1985); "John G. Johnson: Collector of Contemporary Art" (December 1988-March 1989); and "John G. Johnson: A Celebration of 150 Years" (March-July 1991). Marking what would have been Johnson's 150th birthday, the latter exhibition featured biographical and archival materials that documented "the patterns of Johnson's emerging taste and the decisions he made to acquire some of the most important works to come to this country at the turn of the century." In addition to these exhibitions, pieces from the Johnson Collection were included in a number of other shows organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as well as by other national and international museums.

During this time period, the trustee bank went through several name changes: from Pennsylvania Company to First Pennsylvania Bank (1971) to CoreStates Bank, N.A. (1981). Other names important to the administration of the collection from 1972 to 1993 include the law firm of Saul Ewing Remick & Saul, which has provided legal counsel to the Trustee since 1918 when it operated as Prichard, Saul, Bayar and Evans. In 1983 John J. Lombard, Jr., an attorney with Obermayer, Rebmann, Maxwell & Hippel, came to represent the museum in legal proceedings. In 1987 he joined the firm of Morgan Lewis Bockius, and continued serving as museum counsel.


56.25 linear feet


The Johnson Collection Curatorial Records represent two "generations" of curatorial oversight of the art collection acquired by John Graver Johnson (19841-1917), one of Philadelphia's most prominent corporate lawyers. In these curatorial records, the earlier files reflect the administrative and curatorial activities of Henri Marceau and Barbara Sweeny, roughly documenting their combined years of service, 1926-1972. Joseph J. Rishel succeeded Sweeny as Johnson Collection curator in November of 1972. His records comprise the later files. Documentation consists primarily of correspondence, object photographs, writings, research, legal documents and papers pertaining to collection management and personnel.


The Johnson Collection Curatorial Records pertain to curatorial activity previously documented (1926-1972) as well as later activity (1973-1992). Because these date spans reflect two distinct curatorial tenures, certain series within the collection reflect similar chronological subdivisions. The collection arrangement is as follows:

Date span subseries have been imposed on the “Correspondence” and “Subjects” series. Almost all the accrued material pertains to the later date span only. A very small amount of material was created after 1992. In both series, these papers have been processed in a separate "1993+ (future accruals)" subseries. Eleven desk artifacts were added to the 1926-1972 subseries.

The “Exhibitions, loans, and events” series is further divided into two date spans (1927-1973 and 1974-1990), with accrued material added to both subseries.

Rather than date spans, the two subseries in the “Writings” series reflect material formats-- "Working files, lectures and other writings" and "Clippings." The latter pertains to all published references and the material spans the entire collection time period.

It was determined during the most recent processing that the oversized images to be added to “Conservation” series were created during the earlier curatorial tenure. Therefore, the images simply were added to the end of the existing series inventory.

A significant amount of accrued material has now been added to the “Operations and Facilities” series and processed as a new subseries, "Collection Management." It is further divided into four sub-subseries: "Miscellany," "Inventories," "Legal Proceedings," and "Disposition."

Thirty "inactive" negatives of works of art from the Johnson Collection, as well as accompanying copy prints and original envelopes, were intellectually integrated into the appropriate, existing subseries of the “Photographs” series.

Processing Information

These materials were arranged and described by Adrianna Del Collo, Katherine Stefko, Courtney Smerz (2004) and Bertha Adams (2013). Funded by a grant from The John G. Johnson Trust.


Guide to the Johnson Collection Curatorial Records
Finding aid prepared by Adrianna Del Collo, Katherine Stefko, and Courtney Smerz (2004). Bertha Adams.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Funded by a grant from The John G. Johnson Trust

Repository Details

Part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives Repository

Philadelphia Museum of Art
PO Box 7646
Philadelphia PA 19101-7646 United States