Walter J. Johnson was born in Leipzig, Germany in 1908. After completing his studies at the University of Heidelberg, the Sorbonne, Paris and University College, London, he joined his family's Leipzig scientific publishing company, Akademische Verlags-gesellschaft & Gustav Foch GMBH, becoming the fifth generation of his family to work in this business.
Mr. Johnson emigrated to the United States and, soon after his arrival, founded Academic Press in New York and London. Academic Press, which thrives to this day, has published most of the Nobel Laureates of science, many of whom were regular guests in the Johnson home.
Johnson Reprint, which Walter Johnson founded in 1946, published out-of-print scientific books and journals for the benefit of many libraries, which had lost their holdings or were building new collections. (It also issued a sought-after and collected facsimile edition of Audubon's The Birds of America). Both firms merged with Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in 1969, and Mr. Johnson served on the Board of that firm for 25 years.
Mr. Johnson was raised in a milieu of cultural sophistication, academic interests and art collecting. The family tradition of collecting, together with Mr. Johnson's love of rare books and knowledge of the history of printing and publishing, evolved into a specific interest in the etchings of Rembrandt, whom Mr. Johnson considered to be the greatest of all artists.
Walter Johnson's Rembrandt collection was formed over more than three decades. He first came to our attention at the landmark sale of the distinguished collection of Rembrandt etchings formed by Gordon W. Nowell-Usticke in 1967 and 1968. Mr. Johnson understood that this auction was a watershed in the history of the print market and had the foresight to acquire several superb works.
He made further purchases at the sale of the Viscount Downe collection of Rembrandt etchings in London in 1970 and 1972, and periodically thereafter, most notably at the sales of the collections of Dr. Albert Blum in 1988 and Dr. Otto Schäfer in 1993. The energy and power of his presence were instantly felt as he entered the auction room, and he was regarded as a formidable competitor.
But over the years, Mr. Johnson also occasionally sold a small selection of his prints. At auction in May 1973 he offered works including, the Seymour Haden impression of A Woman Bathing her Feet at a Brook and The Woman with the Arrow from the Nowell-Usticke sale. The Walter J. Johnson collection, therefore, has had many lives, but as it is presently constituted stands as one of the most important private collections in the world, spanning all the themes which occupied the artist in painting and printmaking thoughout his life.
There are fine examples of portraiture including Self Portrait with Plumed Cap and Lowered Sabre, 1634, "The Old Haaringh" and "The Young Haaringh", 1655; other figure subjects, from the most modest and tender, such as Girl with a Basket, 1642, to grandiose visions, such as the dramatically composed Faust, 1652; subjects from the Old and New Testament, including The Three Crosses, 1653, the stunning impressions of The Presentation in the Temple in the Dark Manner, Christ Returning from the Temple with His Parents and The Entombment, all of 1654, and the visionary Christ Appearing to Apostles, 1656; great rarities, including the first states of The Good Samaritan, 1633, one of his more elaborate, early compositions, and Medea, or The Marriage of Jason and Creusa, 1648, with its monumental architectural setting; exceptional examples of his nudes, including Woman Bathing her Feet at a Brook, 1658 (acquired from the Blum sale to replace one he had sold in 1973) and the ravishing Jupiter and Antiope: The Larger Plate, 1659; and an extensive series of landscapes, including the spontaneously sketched and exceedingly rare Six's Bridge, 1645, the dazzling study of sun and shade, Clump of Trees with a Vista, 1652, the elaborate and highly theatrical The Three Trees, 1643, a handscome example of the famous Three Gabled Cottages, 1650 and the panoramic Landscape with Trees, Farm Buildings and a Tower, 1651.
It was always Mr. Johnson's intention that his collection be dispersed at auction. He immensely enjoyed the pursuit and acquisition of his prints and he liked to think of these works giving pleasure to later generations of collectors.
M.R. and S.P., March 1997
Tuesday, May 13, 1997
at 10.00 am