Eastman Johnson letters, 1851-1899

A Finding Aid to the Eastman Johnson Letters, 1851-1899, in the Archives of American Art, by Erin Corley

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Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Table of Contents:

Biographical Information

American painter and printmaker Jonathan Eastman Johnson was born in Lovell, Maine in 1824. After apprenticing with a Boston lithographer, he moved to Washington D.C. in 1845 and became a portraitist of prominent Americans, including Daniel Webster and Dolly Madison. Beginning in 1849, Johnson spent two years at the Royal Academy in Dusseldorf, Germany, studying with Emanuel Leutze, and three years at The Hague. After returning to America in 1855, he settled in New York and focused on painting American genre subjects including Native Americans, African Americans, and farmers. He married Elizabeth Buckley in 1869, and they bought a home in Nantucket where he spent every summer for the rest of his life. After 1880, as the popularity of genre paintings declined, Johnson focused again on portraiture. He died in 1906.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The letters of Eastman Johnson contain 12 items and date from 1851 to 1899. The letters provide scattered documentation of his career as a painter and printmaker.

The collection includes a letter to Mr. Champney concerning a painting by Eugene Benson, a letter to Charles Lanman, personal Secretary to Daniel Webster, a letter to Alfred Ordway, artist and Director of Paintings at the Boston Athenaeum, a letter to friend and patron John Coyle, and a letter to Mr. Cozzens concerning a painting which was already sold. Also found are two letters to artist and close friend Jervis McEntee, a letter to an unidentified Mrs. P, stating that he must go to Albany before starting another picture, a letter to Mr. Clark concerning a portrait, and a letter to Dr. Hochheimer regarding a print by Henry Wolf after one of Johnson's paintings. Also included in the collection is an oversize letter, written by Johnson in Dusseldorf, to his friend Charlotte Child, in which he speaks of his impressions of Germany, mutual friends, and working in Leutze's studio.

Arrangement and Series Description

Due to the small size of this collection, items are categorized into one series consisting of two folders. Items are arranged chronologically.

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following index terms. People, families and organizations are listed under "Subjects" when they are the topic of collection contents and under "Names" when they are creators or contributors.


  • Benson, Eugene, 1837-1908
  • Leutze, Emanuel, 1816-1868
  • Wolf, Henry, 1852-1916


  • Painters -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Portrait painters -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Painting, Modern -- 19th century -- New York (State) -- New York


  • McEntee, Jervis, 1828-1891
  • Ordway, Alfred T., 1819-1897
  • Lanman, Charles, 1819-1895


Items were donated in 1979 by Caroline Johnson Brown, Johnson's grand-niece, in 1976 by Letitia Howe, and by Charles E. Feinberg, an active donor to the Archives of American Art between 1955 and 1962, and were microfilmed after receipt.

How the Collection was Processed

The collection was received in several accessions and microfilmed at some point after receipt on reels D10, D30, D316, 2814, 5030, 1817, and 3483. The entire collection was fully processed, arranged, and described by Erin Corley and scanned in 2005, with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

The collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Eastman Johnson letters are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

Available Formats

The collection was digitized in 2005 and is available via the Archives of American Art website.

How to Cite this Collection

Eastman Johnson letters, 1851-1899. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Eastman Johnson Letters, 1851-1899, undated
(Box 1; 2 folders)

Box Folder
1 1 Eastman Johnson Letters, 1851-1899, undated
1 1 Handwritten card, "What is called the 'line' of beauty", undated
1 1 To [Charles] Lanman, May 10, circa 1846
(with transcript)
1 1 To Mr. Champney, March 4, circa 1870s
1 1 To Mr. [Alfred] Ordway, June 3, 1859
1 1 To [John] Coyle, March 13, 1864
1 1 To Mr. Cozzens, February 8, 1865
1 1 To Jervis [McEntee], October 12, 1879
1 1 To Jervis [McEntee], September 22, 1881
1 1 To Mrs. [P.?] (name illegible, photocopy), January 16, 1884
1 1 To Mr. Clark, June 3, 1891
1 1 To Dr. E. Hochheimer, April 20, 1899
Box Folder
OV 2 1 Letter to Charlotte [Child], March 25, 1851
(with transcript)