Scope and Content Note


While building a reputation as one of the country's preeminent corporate lawyers, John Graver Johnson also began, by the 1880s, to amass what would become an esteemed collection of European art. By the time of his death in 1917, he acquired 1,200 paintings primarily from the fourteenth- through nineteenth-centuries, hundreds of pieces of sculpture and textiles, as well as an art library of approximately 2,500 books, journals and auction catalogs. The John G. Johnson Papers consist of correspondence, photographs, invoices and legal documents that make evident Johnson's process in building his art collection, as well as the disposition of these acquisitions and other personal belongings after his death. The collection also includes a significant number of photographs Johnson compiled in oversized albums to commemorate his travels to Europe with his wife, Ida, as well as formal portraits of each.

The first series, "Correspondence" contains Johnson's communications primarily with dealers and other art experts who advised him and sometimes negotiated purchases on his behalf. Well represented in these files are letters from Bernard Berenson and W. R. Valentiner. Both noted scholars compiled the three-volume catalog privately published by Johnson of his art collection in 1913 and 1914. Also included are photocopies and transcriptions of many of Johnson's letters held by other repositories, as well as original invoices and shipping instructions issued for many of his purchases.

The second series, "Photographs and other images," illustrates three components to Johnson's life. Portraits of Johnson and his wife Ida make up the "Personal" subseries along with an oversized print of the drawing room to Johnson's center city home. Their summer trips to Europe are captured in seven oversized photograph albums comprising the "Travel" subseries. Images of the couple's stops at various cities in Europe in 1878 and 1881 each comprise three volumes. An additional single volume documents an undated trip to Norway. The third subseries, "Works of art" consists of hundreds of photographs and prints that were likely included in Johnson's extensive library and attest to his disciplined and exhaustive study of art. While the categories in which the images are arranged and certain annotations suggest the handiwork of curators, most of the images appear to have been compiled by Johnson.

Inventories and appraisals of Johnson's estate taken between 1917 and 1918 make up most of the documentation of the "Estate" series. Both inventory and appraisal are combined in one document, and at the time these documents were executed, duplicates were made of those pertaining to his "paintings and other artistic property." Some of those duplicates were later annotated by curatorial staff, Trustee representatives and an appraiser who served as the official court examiner. (Because these documents contain valuations, access is restricted and at the discretion of the archivist.) Also included in this series are bound copies of Johnson's will, with photocopies of same, and miscellaneous papers pertaining to Johnson's residuary property (items unrelated to art) and investments.

The items processed under the "Other subjects" series are two family bibles, a photocopy of an art travel guide written by Johnson and published in 1892 and two documents that likely stemmed from his legal practice.