Rare Chance to See Artworks The Huntington Might Purchase

Posted on Fri., April 29, 2011 by Thea Page
Sargent Claude Johnson screen
Sargent Claude Johnson (1888-1967), Untitled , 1937; carved, painted, and gilded redwood; 8 ft. 9 in. tall at the highest point x 22 ft. long x 2 in. deep.

Update: The Huntington's Art Collectors' Council made their decisions. Click here to find out which pieces will be added to the Huntington's collection.

Well, this is a first! Visitors to The Huntington through Monday, May 2, will get to preview two of the three works under consideration for acquisition by the Art Collectors' Council on Saturday evening.

A huge carved, painted, and gilded redwood screen for a pipe organ (22 feet long and more than 8 feet tall) made in 1937 by sculptor Sargent Claude Johnson will be stretched along one of the walls in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art. Also on view will be Interior with Children (1883), a painting by Seymour Joseph Guy, who is considered one of the greatest American painters of the late 19th century.

A third work, a painting by early 20th-century realist Ernest Lawson, also will be under consideration, but won't be on public view.

The Huntington's Art Collectors' Council is a group of major donors who support the growth of the collections through active involvement in the acquisition process. They meet every spring to select works for acquisition. This year, they focus on American art. Last year, they acquired a newly identified painting by 17th-century French painter Philippe de Champaigne—Portrait of Jean de Thévenot (1633-67).

Best known for his imagery of animals and people, particularly African and Native Americans, rendered in Abstract Figurative and Early Modern styles, Johnson was one of the first African American artists in California to achieve a national reputation. He worked as a painter, printmaker, and ceramist, but is best known as a sculptor. Under the auspices of the Federal Arts Project, Johnson carved this monumental relief of musicians, animals, birds, and plants as a screen for a pipe organ in the hall of the California School for the Blind in Berkeley, Calif. The sculpture was removed from the building after the school relocated and the building became part of the University of California campus.

Guy is best known for his detailed and highly polished domestic scenes. His work is distinctive for its combination of portraiture with genre painting—scenes of people engaged in commonplace activities, often with a subtle narrative implied. Interior with Children exemplifies this aspect of his work, depicting a boy and a girl—possibly brother and sister who are clearly painted from life—seated in a lavishly decorated Victorian room. The boy is focused on placing a flower in the girl's hair while she gazes fixedly out at the viewer. Guy shared an interest in light and perspective with the 17th-century Dutch Masters. This affinity seems evident in the lifelike rendering of the children, the detailed representation of their clothing, and the meticulous depiction of the decorative elements throughout the room.

Next week, The Huntington hopes to announce the Art Collectors' Council's decision about what to purchase this year. Stay tuned!

Thea M. Page is art writer and special projects manager at The Huntington.