Woodmere Art Museum
Joseph Thurman Pearson, Jr., A Painter in the Grand Manner
April 8 July 8, 2001
Foreward to the exhibition catalogue:
Joseph Thurman Pearson, Jr. was no stranger to Woodmere Art Museum, as he was an active participant in Museum activities during its formative years. During the 1940s, for instance, he was a member of the Museum's very vigorous exhibition committee, which was chaired by artist and Woodmere curator Edith Emerson. Fellow committee members included artists William N. Goodell, John Brock Lear, Mary Townsend Mason, Arthur Meltzer, Maurice Molarsky and Pearl Van Sciver. .Joseph Pearson was also a featured artist along with colleague and distinguished sculptor Albert Laessle, in a 1945 exhibition at Woodmere that filled the Museum's main rotunda gallery. Included in that exhibition was perhaps his most famous painting of all, The Twins, Virginia and Jane, now in the collection of the James A. Michener Art Museum, which has most generously allowed the work to return to Woodmere for this Pearson tribute. At the time of Pearson's 1943 exhibition, Woodmere's board of directors purchased the painting By the River for the rather handsome sum of $1,000. Interestingly, at the same board meeting it was also agreed to purchase from fellow Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts instructor, Daniel Garber, the painting Spring Valley for $500. Both paintings are still in the Museum's permanent collection, and the former will be prominently displayed in the current retrospective. Pearson's feelings for Woodmere and the opportunity it provided him and so many other local artists to exhibit their work was made apparent in a March 21, 1943 speech given at the Museum when he observed "Woodmere is not a piece of earth, a pile of material; it is a spiritual entity which, administered wisely, will be a precious place, a Sanctuary for the soul" (left: Joseph Thurman Pearson, Jr., The Twins, Virginia and Jane, 1917, oil on canvas, 60 x 72 inches, James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, PA, Gift of Oliver Pearson)
Pearson is furthermore forever linked to Woodmere through his second wife, Alice Kent Stoddard (1885-1976), who volunteered and exhibited at the Museum over a lengthy period of time, and whose paintings are also well represented in the permanent collection. She was a William Emlen Cresson Traveling Fellowship award winner at the Pennsylvania Academy and also had a major exhibition at the Museum, along with her close friend, Mary Townsend Mason, in 1951. Stoddard's handsome portrait of Joseph Pearson is included in the current exhibition. Because of the close ties to the Museum and the fact that Woodmere favors mounting exhibitions of work by under-appreciated artists, it seemed appropriate to mount an exhibition to memorialize the 50th anniversary of the artist's death, an idea enthusiastically proposed by the late Frank Bianco, Museum trustee and proprietor of Bianco Gallery, Buckingham, Pennsylvania. Frank was also instrumental in helping the Museum acquire two magnifrcent portraits by Pearson of the artist's first wife, Emily. These were acquired in 1933 with funds provided by the Verna Stein Estate and an anonymous donor. Frank shared our excitement about their being the centerpiece of a major retrospective, as they show the artist at his finest. (left: Jane and Virginia, 1916, oil on canvas, 50 x 40 inches, Private collection; right: The Bridge, 1926, oil on board, 54 x 58 inches, Private collection of Jim's Antiques Fine Art Gallery, Lambertville, N.J.)
Upon Bianco's sudden death, his colleague and fellow Pearson devotee, Roy Wood, Jr. assumed the challenge of gathering, identifying and interpreting works by the artist in cooperation with members of the Pearson family. Indeed, the Pearson family has been supremely supportive of the exhibit. Mr.Wood's text provides informative observations on the life and art of one of the finest Philadelphia artists of the first half of the 20th century.
Michael W. Schantz, Ph.D.
The Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO
Author's Preface to the exhibition catalogue:
I was first introduced to the works of Joseph T. Pearson, Jr. when I purchased a group of annual exhibition catalogs published by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, dated from 1890 to 1935. Illustrated in the catalogs were artists whose art was cluite good, but whose names were unfamiliar. I looked up a number of these unknown artists, and immediately became intrigued by the quality of Pearson's paintings and his extensive biography. It amazed me that an artist, who had won so many awards and was so well thought of in his own time, is almost totally unknown today. Researching Pearson, I found that one of his children, Emily Pierie. was still living. I unsuccessfully attempted correspondence with her over the next few years. (left: Joseph Thurman Pearson, Jr., Emily, 1906, oil on canvas, 44 1/8 x 33 3/4 inches, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA, Joseph E. Temple Fund)
In 1996, with my friend and colleague, the late Frank Bianco, proprietor of Bianco Gallery, Buckingham, Pennsylvania, I visited the former site of the Pennsylvania Academy Summer Art School at Chester Springs, Pennsylvania to assist in identifying a numher of photographs of works that were unidentified. Pearson's name came up in conversation and Frank suggested that I try contacting the family again.This time, Charlotte Stuempfig, Emilys niece and Pearson's granddaughter, answered my correspondence, and invited us to visit Pearson's studio in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania.
We visited the studio, which was in a converted barn, and found wondrous scenes of ducks in flight, portraits of children and family religious works, still lifes and landscapes. All were in desperate need of conservation.We undertook the beginnings of restoring the collection to its original splendor, and we were able to look and see the potential of the work. We also began the research on a major painting, The Twins, Virginia and Jane, which the James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, was interested in purchasing for its permanent collection. We assisted in evaluating the painting, and through the generous donation of a benefactor, the Michener acquired it. (left: Joseph Thurman Pearson, Jr., Study in Gray, 1905, oil on canvas, 84 x 45 inches, Collection of the Woodmere Art Museum, Purchased with funds provided by the Verna Stein Estate and an anonymous donor, 1999)
Why did Joseph T. Pearson, Jr.'s work fall into obscurity? During the Depression and post-Depression eras in the United States, collecting American art became unfashionable, and many institutions de-accessioned major American works in favor of their more famous European contemporaries. Likewise, innovative modern artists, such as Arthur B. Carles, were deemed more important than traditional artists whose work was taken as imitative and uninspired. Add to these cultural proclivities the fact that Pearson's output was not prodigious, as teaching and the development of his homestead in Huntingdon Valley consumed him. Furthermore the salon-sized, grand scale of his paintings limited their acquisition into domestic settings.
The current Woodmere Art Museum exhibition is intended to bring long-needed attention to the work of this under-appreciated artist, and the Pearson family and I are delighted by the Museum's continued interest in Pearson's work. In 1943, Woodmere was the setting of one of Pearson's finest exhibitions and it is fitting to once again adorn the Museum's walls with his works. We believe this retrospective to be a worthy successor to Woodmere's earlier tribute.
Roy Wood, Jr.
December 19, 2000
Wall text for the exhibition Joseph Thurman Pearson, Jr. Works on Paper by Roy Wood, Jr., Guest Curator:
As can be seen in his large compositions in oils, Pearson was a superb draftsman. Certainly, Pearson's skill in drawing was augmented by his architectural work while in the employ of Wilson Eyre, the noted Philadelphia architect.
Except for a self-portrait, the Pearson works on paper shown in this exhibition fall into the following categories: 1) a small group that mirror his interest in landscape, 2) several wartime patriotic works, and 3) the Crucifixion series.
The landscapes are well executed depictions of farm scenes. The largest, Planting Rutabagas (Private Collection), is a sizable drawing, very reminiscent of the French artists Léon L'Hermitte, Jules Breton and Jules Bastien-Lepage who are mentioned in the main exhibition catalog, "Joseph T. Pearson, Jr., A Painter in the Grand Manner." We know from an exhibition label that this work was exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts' 1918 Annual Watercolor show. The work shows farmers working their farms, toiling in their fields. The peace and calm contrast with the war that was transpiring in Europe. The two wartime works, They Shall Not Pass and Keep Motherhood Sacred (both Pearson Trust) appear to be prototypes for posters and reflect the sentiment of the time. Both are strong departures for the peaceful nature of most of Pearson's work. We do know that Pearson volunteered during the First World War to assist with camouflage.1 These works are not as finely drawn as most of Pearson's work, but even in their thicker strokes Pearson shows his ability to capture the moment.
In 1930, Joseph T. Pearson, Jr. began painting and drawing a number of images of Christ, primarily of the Crucifixion, as a reaction to the horrors of the First World War. The works started as an exercise for a mural to be painted in a cathedral (location unknown). They were a departure for Pearson, not well known in his family for his religious beliefs. Although he also worked on this subject in large oil pieces, the paintings often appeared to be depictions of Old Masters that were updated to show modern figures. His drawings and pastels were much more the images of Christ in the European Old Master tradition.
When Pearson exhibited the Christ drawings, he identified them by number, unlike previously titled works. Perhaps Pearson knew of the Jewish tradition, where the name of God is never written as it lessens God's power.2 We have named the works on paper to differentiate them; the original numbers having been largely lost over the years.
Why did Pearson concentrate on Christ? It is the author's opinion that he wanted to portray the ultimate horror, the brutality inflicted on Christ, who has been called the King of Peace. Some works are graphic and powerful depictions of the suffering of Christ and, as Christians believe, his sacrifice for we less than perfect mortals. Other works show the majesty of heaven with angels. Pearson's numbering, rather than naming of the works, could reflect mankind's indifference or the respect for God's infinite power.
Lastly, why did Pearson wait so long after the conclusion of World War I to do these pieces? We simply don't know. Perhaps he just wanted us to reflect on them, a purpose in which he has succeeded. Pearson's works on paper are worthy successors to the art of the Old Masters before him.
1 "Noted Philadelphia Artist Enlists to Camouflage Ships," newspaper clipping (unknown publication and date)
2 Conversation with Russell Bishop, April 1, 2001
Checklist of the Exhibition
Unless otherwise indicated, dimensions are image sizes listed in inches (height precedes width)
Woodmere Art Museum, the Pearson Family and Roy Wood Jr. would like to acknowledge the outstanding contribution made by conservator Andrew Bertolino (Andrews Gallery, Inc., Cherry Hill, New Jersey). Without his effort and conservation skills, the original beauty of Pearson's compositions could not have been realized.
1. Removing Christ from the Cross, Charcoal, 27 x 18, Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
2. Head of Christ on the Cross, Charcoal, 27 x 21, Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
3. Prelude to Cross (study), Pencil, 22 x 16, Private Collection
4. Crowd (study), Pencil, 26 x 16, Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
5. Carried from Cross, Pastel, 22 3/8 x 17, Private Collection
6. Farmer, House & Chickens, Charcoal, 13 x 15 7/8 (s), Private Collection
7. Altar (study), Pencil with color, 18 x 27 (s), Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
8. Laying of Christ, Charcoal, 16 x 22, Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
9. Head of Christ on the Cross, Pencil with color, 24 x 18 (s), Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
10. Barnyard, Charcoal, 12 x 16 7/8 (s), Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
11. Beach, Pencil, 23 7/8 x 13 7/8 (s), Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
12. Cross with Angels, Pencil, 21 x 12, Private Collection
13. Man/Woman Nude, Charcoal, 23 7/8 x 16 (s), Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
14. Plowing for Potatoes, Charcoal, 11 15/16 x 17 (s), Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
15. Crucifixion, Litho crayon & pencil, 17 x 25, Private Collection
16. Planting Rutabagas, Charcoal, 16 x 21 7/8, Private Collection
17. They Shall Not Pass, Charcoal, 11 3/8 x 8 (s), Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
18. Keep Motherhood Sacred, Charcoal, 11 x 7 7/8 (s), Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
19. Mary Holding Christ, Pastel, 22 x 15, Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
20. Christ with Angels, Pencil, 22 x 12 (s), Private Collection
21. Holding Christ on a Slab, Pastel, 17 x 22, Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
22. Carrying Up From Cross, Pastel, 17 x 22, Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
23. Mary Holding Christ, Litho crayon & pencil, 26 x 20, Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
24. Nailed to Cross, Charcoal, 21 x 27 (s), Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
25. At the Foot of the Cross, Litho crayon & pencil, 27 x 21, Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
26. Christ Seated at the Foot of the Cross, Litho crayon & pencil, 27 x 21, Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
27. Christ Tomb, Pencil, 20 x 26, Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
28. Holding Christ, Pencil, 26 x 20, Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
29. Crown of Thorns, Pencil, 27 x 16, Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
30. Mary, Litho crayon & pencil, 12 x 14, Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
31. Drape the Body, Pencil, 17 x 22, Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
32. Lifting of the Cross, Pencil, 19 x 24 3/8 (s), Pearson Trust c/o Banco Gallery
33. Laying the Body, Pencil, 18 x 24, Private Collection
34. Bottom of the Cross, Pastel, 22 3/8 x 15 (s), Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
35. Self Portrait, Pencil, 20 7/8 x 16 (s), Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
36. Christ, Litho crayon & pencil, 22 x 17, Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
37. Haywagon, Pencil, 12 x 15 7/8 (s), Pearson Trust c/o Bianco Gallery
38. The Suffering Servant, Pastel, 17 x 18, Private Collection
39. The Third Hour, Pencil, 16 x 24 (s), Private Collection
40. Christ & the Centurian, Pencil, 26 x 20, Private Collection
(s) Sight dimensions
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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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