PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A new exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art showcases the works of a private collector who made a name for himself as a prominent corporate lawyer in the city more than 100 years ago.
It also shows how Museum specialists displayed their detective skills.
“Old Masters Now” features about 100 works of John G. Johnson, who left 1500 paintings, sculptures, and other objects to the city.
What distinguishes the bequest from others is how curators and conservators not only tended to the paintings but, in restoring them, transformed them.
Eight paintings illustrate those breakthroughs, like Dutch master Judith Leyster’s “The Last Drop,” which dates back to the 17th century, according to the museum’s Director of Conservation, Mark Tucker.
“When Johnson bought this picture, it simply showed two men at the end of a long night of drinking,” Tucker said.
But through technical and scholarly review, Tucker says museum staff discovered that there was a skeleton between them, before it was painted over.
“Probably by a dealer in the 1800’s who said this would be an easier picture to sell, if it didn’t have this menacing skeleton,” Tucker explained.
He says the overpaint was easy to remove, revealing the true message of Leyster’s painting.
“Now, when you walk in, you’ll see two men flanking a leering skeleton, who is holding a skull!” said Tucker.
The exhibition includes paintings by Italian and Renaissance, Dutch and French masters, from Botticelli and Bosch, to Rembrandt, Steen, Manet, and Monet.
Old Masters Now: Celebrating the Johnson Collection runs through mid-February.