Philadelphia Museum of Art - Collections Object : Jesus Bearing the Cross

Jesus Bearing the Cross

Justin McCarthy, American, 1892 - 1977

Made in United States, North and Central America

Date unknown

Oil on board

23 x 32 3/4 inches (58.4 x 83.2 cm)

Research inconclusive. Copyright may apply.

Curatorial Department:
Contemporary Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Gift of Nancy Green Karlins and Mark Thoman, 2001

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Justin McCarthy began drawing while a patient at the Rittersville (Pennsylvania) State Home for the Insane, to which he was admitted in 1915 after suffering a nervous breakdown. On his release in 1920 he returned to his Weatherly, Pennsylvania, family home, and remained there until the early 1970s, living with his mother until her death in 1940. Throughout his life McCarthy held many jobs, such as a farmer and a machinists’ assistant, but he considered himself an artist, drawing or painting a wide range of subjects derived from newspapersfashion and travel magazines, religious and historical events, as well as images of glamorous celebrities. His work was noticed by a dealer and collector at a local art show around 1960, and in 1965 he had his first solo exhibition, at the Everhart Museum, in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He died in Tuscon, Arizona, on July 14, 1977, at the age of 85.

This confident yet unconventional composition, with its nontraditional color and highly textured brushstrokes, is typical of McCarthy's expressive style.

Additional information:
  • PublicationGifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    The promised anniversary pledge of a future gift of a rich and diverse group of more than fifty works by various American self-taught and visionary folk artists from the collection of Dr. Nancy F. Karlins Thoman and her husband, Mark Thoman, greatly expands the Museum's ability to exhibit these important artists. In addition to assembling a significant number of works by such artists as William L. Hawkins, Louis Monza, Nellie Mae Rowe, William Traylor, and Vestie Davis, Dr. Karlins researched, documented, and preserved one of the most extensive and complete representations of the imaginative paintings and drawings of the Pennsylvania folk painter Justin McCarthy, over twenty of which are included in this gift.

    McCarthy grew up in one of the wealthiest families in the small town of Weatherly in Carbon County, Pennsylvania. His father, John, was a newspaper publisher who experienced extreme financial reversals just after the turn of the twentieth century and died in 1908, leaving the family in economic distress. Needing to help support his mother but failing in his attempt to complete law school, Justin suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized from 1915 to 1920 at the Pennsylvania State Home for the Insane at Rittersville. It was there that he started to draw, and thus began his eclectic experimentation with a wide variety of subjects and mediums that continued throughout his life.

    After leaving the hospital, McCarthy returned to the family mansion in Weatherly, where he lived with his mother. Although he held several jobs throughout the rest of his life, his main interest became drawing and painting on various found materials salvaged paper, Masonite, canvas, and wood--with pencil, crayon, ink, oil, watercolor, and eventually after 1970, acrylic. Newspapers, fashion and travel magazines, religious and historical events, and glamorous celebrities supplied him with a vast range of subjects. The confident yet unconventional composition, nontraditional use of color, and heavily textured brushstrokes seen here in Jesus Bearing the Cross are typical of McCarthy's distinctively expressive style. Jack L. Lindsey, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary (2002), pp. 126-127.