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January 30th, 1998
Museum Presents Rare Masterpieces By Jan Van Eyck

The Philadelphia Museum of Art will present a small but extraordinary exhibition that brings together a group works by one of the best known and most influential artists in the history of art, the great master of Netherlandish painting, Jan van Eyck (c. 1385-1441). Recognizing Van Eyck, on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from April 1 through May 31, 1998, includes seven rare works lent by distinguished European and U.S. museums, as well as two nearly identical images of St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata (c. 1428-1430). Van Eyck's paintings have been renowned through the centuries for their astonishing realism and a mastery of oil painting so consummate that the painter was long credited with having invented the technique. Works by Van Eyck are rare and very seldom lent between museums; this exhibition will represent a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of masterpieces, including works by Van Eyck, his assistants and closest followers.

Among Philadelphia's contributions to the exhibition is the exquisite Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata from the John G. Johnson Collection. Approximately five by six inches in size, the painting is a marvel of technique and innovative artistic vision that shows the 13th-century friar Saint Francis of Assisi kneeling in a fantastic, detailed landscape at the moment when the wounds of the crucified Christ--the stigmata- miraculously appear on his hands, feet and side. It is one of two virtually identical versions of the subject; the other, painted in a format four times the size of the Philadelphia work, is owned by the Galleria Sabauda in Turin, Italy. Recognizing Van Eyck brings these two works together for what is believed by scholars to be their first reunion in over 500 years, providing an occasion to explore the origin and history of the paintings and the relationship between them.

The exhibition provides an unprecedented opportunity to compare the style, quality and technique of the two St. Francis paintings with those of a distinguished group of works on loan from other American and European museums, including the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, Belgium; the Musée du Louvre, Paris, France; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio. Also on view will be a superb painting of Saint Christopher from the John G. Johnson Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which is believed to be the work of a follower of Van Eyck. It will be joined, for the first time, by a closely related drawing of Saint Christopher attributed to Van Eyck that is in the collection of the Louvre.

Among the works on loan are two of Van Eyck's most famous paintings: The Annunciation (c. 1434-1435), lent by the National Gallery (and which by itself attracted more than 1,000 visitors per day when it was shown at The Art Institute of Chicago during the summer of 1997), and St. Barbara (1437), lent by the Koninklijk Museum, which has never before been seen outside of Europe. The Annunciation is a supreme example of the artist's spellbinding subject matter and his ability to render color and texture with a richness that set a standard for illusionistic painting unsurpassed to this day. Saint Barbara, an intricate drawing on a prepared wood panel whose frame is signed and dated 1437 by Van Eyck, was made either in preparation for a painting that was never completed, or as an independent work. Its masterful handling of figures in a minutely detailed landscape invites comparisons with the treatment of figures and landscape in the two Saint Francis paintings.

Recognizing Van Eyck is the culmination of research begun in the early 1980s by the Museum's curators and conservators and a group of internationally recognized authorities on Van Eyck's work. The effort shed new light on questions surrounding the Philadelphia and Turin paintings, addressing the strength of their attribution to Van Eyck, and when, why and for whom they were painted. These and other findings presented in the exhibition are discussed and illustrated comprehensively in Jan van Eyck: Two Paintings of Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata. This book of essays, which presents the most recent technical and art historical research devoted to the works, includes contributions written by Joseph Rishel, the Museum's Senior Curator of European Painting before 1900, and Marigene H. Butler, retired head of the Museum's Conservation Department, with an annotated bibliography prepared by Katherine Crawford Luber, Assistant Curator of the John G. Johnson Collection. The publication was made possible with the generous assistance of the Getty Grant Program, and was supported by an endowment fund for scholarly publications established by grants from CIGNA and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Recognizing Van Eyck has been organized by Joseph J. Rishel, the Museum's Senior Curator of European Painting before 1900; Carl B. Strehlke, Adjunct Curator, John G. Johnson Collection; and Katherine Crawford Luber, Assistant Curator, John G. Johnson Collection. The exhibition will be accompanied by Jan van Eyck: Two Paintings of Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata, as well as an issue of the Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin, titled Recognizing Van Eyck, with essays by Ms. Luber, and illustrations of all the works included.

Recognizing Van Eyck was organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Galleria Sabauda, Turin, in collaboration with the National Gallery, London. It is supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Montgomery Scott Endowment for Exhibitions, and by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. Additional support was provided by John McShain Charities, Inc. The installation was made possible by J.E. Berkowitz, L.P., and Eureka Metal & Glass Services, Inc.

Please note: Admission to Recognizing Van Eyck is $8.00 for adults, and $5.00 for children, seniors 62 and over, and students with valid I.D. Timed tickets are required at all times, including Sunday morning. Advance tickets may be purchased beginning March 3 either at the Museum or by calling (215) 235-SHOW. The exhibition will be open from Tuesday through Friday, 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.;Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Wednesday evenings until 8:45 p.m.

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