John Williamson Information and Inventory

John Williamson

(1816 - 1885)

John Williamson


This is a great painting story for me. My wife and I had driven to Rockland, Maine and the Samosett Resort for a three-day James Julia auction in 2002. Normally, she doesn’t accompany me on such trips, preferring to think of me as an eccentric collector with perhaps too much time on my hands. I promised free time to visit museums and go antiquing: the “important paintings” part of the sale is day three, but you have to preview the sale before it starts, thus forcing the paintings’ buyers (the ones that really count) to stay three nights. One might even think the auction folks and the hotel folks were working together on this one. The preview area was poorly lit, and this little picture was almost ground-floor level, hanging on a peg board and filthy dirty… painting and frame. I always believed that if you’re going to go this far for an auction, you should at least examine each piece carefully… dismiss nothing too quickly. The catalogue listed this piece as “unknown American” yet was loaded with details on both front and back of the canvas. On the front it read “Sargent’s, Stockbridge 8/7/60” and was easily read in a distinctive script. The back read, in the artist’s hand, “Stockbridge, Mass., Sargent’s, 1860, JW, Trees planted by Jonathan Edwards.” All of this was legible. I said to my wife, “This is a John Williamson painting, and knowledgeable dealers or collectors will know this.” Now the catch: this picture was being auctioned on the second day, not being considered important enough to appear with all the other paintings. I told my wife I had to show up on day two, since just maybe the big buyers would be “visiting museums and going antiquing”… that didn’t go over well. Anyway, I saw no familiar buyers’ faces on day two and, amidst a modest flurry of bidding, I bought the picture. I had it cleaned and the original period frame restored and felt a great sense of “I deserve this” for all the driving and auctions I’ve attended over the years. Scottish-born John Williamson came to the United States in 1831 and became a regular exhibitor in the major national venues around the country. Yet in hindsight he is not an artist that generated much awareness until the late 1980s or early 1990s. His delicate, sensitive works “tend to be small and intimate in character and beautifully composed… he seems allied in temperament with works by Kensett and Gifford.” 1 Perhaps a reason for his lack of renown was a comment a very astute dealer made to me many years ago that Williamson’s “J.W.” signature often had a tail on the outside of the “W” resulting in the belief it was a JWC or John W. Casilear.

John Williamson Gallery

No paintings by this author