In 1632 Cornelius Johnson was King Charles I’s official ‘picture-drawer’ and a peer of Anthony Van Dyck (the most famous artist in his day). He was an incredibly talented artist but was pushed into the background by the arrival of Van Dyck. Johnson has subsequently to be relegated as an obscurity of British Art.
That was until now.
It may have taken 500 years but Johnson finally has his moment in the spotlight as a subject of a major exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.
On Thursday 3 September, 6-7pm, the exhibitions Curator, Professor Karen Hearn, will be giving a lecture on the artist at the Beaney, with a focus on the portraits painted by him in the Beaney Collection and the Kentish sitters he depicted.
Cornelius Johnson: Charles I’s Forgotten Painter © National Portrait Gallery, London
Johnson was born in 1593 to a Flemish/German protestant family, and trained in the Northern Netherlands until returning to begin his career in Britain in 1619.
He pained everything from miniatures to small scale royal portraits, portraying aristocracy, lawyers, gentry and merchants.
His British career suffered some unfortunate setbacks, namly the arrival of Van Dyck, to the 1643 outbreak of civil war in Britain, after which he and his family moved to the Netherlands.
Despite the unfavourable conditions in Britain, he became incredibly successful in the Netherlands, making portraits for wealthy and prestigious clients.
He was one of the first British born artists to consistently sign and date his works, making his career easy to track. He portrayed many clients from Kent and the Beaney currently has two of his paintings on display, including the incredibly accomplished portrait of Colonel Robert Hammond.
Portrait of Sir Basil Dixwell by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, c. 1638 © Beaney House of Art and Knowledge
Due to his bad luck of being around at the same time as Van Dyke few people are aware of Johnson. “But he really does deserve to be better known on so many different counts,” said curator Karen Hearn. “His paintings are really sympathetic, there is a delicacy about them.”
Reasons why Johnson should be better know
- He is really rather good
- His portraiture brought out the personality of the sitter
- He had exception attention to detail in his delicate and meticulous technique
- He has a particular talent for the rendering of fabric and fashion