Johns, Elizabeth 1937-

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JOHNS, Elizabeth 1937-

PERSONAL: Born October 28, 1937, in Dallas, TX; daughter of Samuel B. (a naval chaplain) and Gerta (a homemaker; maiden name, Gray) Bennett; married Lester H. Butsch, December 20, 1958 (divorced, 1970); married Max T. Johns (an economist), June 15, 1971; children: (first marriage) Alan L., Nancy E. Education: Birmingham Southern College, B.A., 1959; University of California—Berkeley, M.A., 1965; Emory University, Ph.D., 1974. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Lutheran.

ADDRESSES: Offıce—c/o Department of the History of Art, University of Pennsylvania, 3405 Woodland Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19104-3325.

CAREER: Albany State College, Albany, GA, instructor in English, 1968-71; Clayton Junior College, instructor in English, 1971-72; Savannah State College, Savannah, GA, assistant professor of English, 1972-75; University of Maryland—College Park, College Park, assistant professor, 1975-80, associate professor of art, 1980-84, associate professor of American studies, 1984-87; University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, Andrew Mellon Professor of Fine Arts, 1986-89; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Silfen Term Professor, beginning 1989, now professor emeritus. College of the Holy Cross, Lilly fellow at Center for Religion, Ethics, and Culture.

MEMBER: American Studies Association, Organization of American Historians, College Art Association of America, Association of Art Historians, Phi Beta Kappa.

AWARDS, HONORS: Mitchell Prize for the History of Art, 1984; Woodrow Wilson international fellow, 1985; Guggenheim fellow, 1985.


Thomas Eakins: The Heroism of Modern Life, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1983.

American Genre Painting: The Politics of EverydayLife, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1991.

(Illustrator) Ann Dixon, The Sleeping Lady, Alaska Northwest Books (Anchorage, AK), 1994.

(With Sylvia Yount) To Be Modern: American Encounters with Cezanne and Company, Museum of American Arts, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Philadelphia, PA), 1996.

(Illustrator) Janet Anderson, Sunflower Sal, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 1997.

(With others) New Worlds from Old: NineteenthCentury Australian and American Landscapes, Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford, CT), 1998.

Winslow Homer: The Nature of Observation, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2002.

Contributor to books, including George Caleb Bingham, Abrams (New York, NY), 1990; The West As America: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820-1920, Smithsonian Institution Press (Washington, DC), 1991; The Still Life Paintings of William Michael Harnett, Abrams (New York, NY), 1992; William Sidney Mount: Painter of American Life, by Deborah J. Johnson, American Federation of Arts (New York, NY), 1998; and Philadelphia's Cultural Landscape: The Sartain Family Legacy, edited by Katharine Martinez and Page Talbott, Temple University Press (Philadelphia, PA), 2000. Contributor to periodicals, including Art Bulletin, Art Journal, Winterthur Portfolio: Journal of American Material Culture, American Quarterly, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, and Arts.

SIDELIGHTS: With her book Thomas Eakins: The Heroism of Modern Life, Elizabeth Johns attracted the attention of such critics as Theodore Stebbins, Jr., who described it in the New York Times Book Review as "one of the best studies ever written about an American painter." Eakins, a master realist known primarily for his portraiture, is generally regarded as one of the greatest artists of the nineteenth century. But, as Johns's book points out, he sold few of his 250 portraits and did not achieve recognition as a major painter until the very end of his life. This was partly because art patrons of Eakins's time considered his remarkably honest approach to be moody, somber, and unflattering to his sitters, Johns explains, and they preferred the more pleasant styles of such painters as Eakins's contemporaries John Singer Sargent and William Merritt Chase.

Johns's premise, according to Suzanne Muchini in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, is that "Eakins's role as a portraitist has been neglected and his technique inadequately analyzed." She begins the biography with a discussion of Eakins's education and intellectual development and then examines five of his master pieces. Describing each portrait in detail, Johns places them in their sociological contexts and provides information regarding the lives and personalities of the sitters and the artistic conventions of the period.

Reviewers commended Thomas Eakins for its fresh approach to a much discussed subject. As Stebbins observed, Eakins is "the most thoroughly studied American painter," and therefore "Eakins scholarship has been even more subject to acrimonious nit-picking than most other art history." But despite all that has been previously written about Eakins's work, Stebbins said, Johns's book tells us more about his "subjects and his era than one would have thought necessary or possible."

Eakins chose his early subjects, Johns's book emphasizes, for the discipline and dedication demanded of them by their professions—medicine, athletics, the arts, religion. As Wanda M. Corn noted in the Times Literary Supplement, Eakins's sitters were more than friends and relatives; to him "they were modern egalitarian heroes." While Eakins's early portraits depicted active men and women in their professional settings, his later paintings focused on pensive figures, posed standing or sitting. According to Corn, Johns sees these later portraits as a progression of "Eakins's obsession with heroic behavior but argues that his definition of heroism has changed." In contrast with the early sitters, whose heroism derived from their professions, Eakins's later models were "heroes of endurance," whose "heroism consists in surviving the wear and tear of daily life." Corn further stated that she considered Johns's perspective "wholly original and unexpected."

Johns once told CA: "I believe that art history, at its best, is cultural history. For me, researching, thinking through, and writing history is the most exhilarating work imaginable."



AB Bookman's Weekly, March 25, 1991, review of Thomas Eakins: The Heroism of Modern Life, p. 1143.

American Historical Review, February, 1993, review of American Genre Painting: The Politics of Everyday Life, p. 241.

American Quarterly, March, 1993, review of AmericanGenre Painting, p. 151.

Art Journal, winter, 1992, review of American GenrePainting, p. 95.

Burlington, February, 1994, review of American GenrePainting, p. 120.

Choice, April, 1992, review of American GenrePainting, p. 1217; May, 1999, review of New Worlds from Old: Nineteenth Century Australian and American Landscapes, p. 1604.

Journal of American History, September, 1993, review of American Genre Painting, p. 674.

Journal of Interdisciplinary History, summer, 1993, review of American Genre Painting, p. 170.

Library Journal, September 15, 1991, review of American Genre Painting, p. 52; April 15, 1992, review of American Genre Painting, p. 88; December, 2002, Kraig A. Binkowski, review of Winslow Homer: The Nature of Observation, p. 118.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 4, 1984, Suzanne Muchini, review of Thomas Eakins. New York Review of Books, December 3, 1998, review of New Worlds from Old, p. 32.

New York Times Book Review, May 20, 1984, Theodore Stebbins, Jr., review of Thomas Eakins,

School Arts, January, 1993, review of American GenrePainting, p. 41.

Times Literary Supplement, May 28, 1984, Wanda M. Corn, review of Thomas Eakins.

Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1984.

Wilson Quarterly, February, 1992, review of AmericanGenre Painting, p. 96.


Home Page of Professor Elizabeth Johns, (November 3, 1994).

University of California Press Web Site, (April 16, 2003), publisher's description of Winslow Homer.

Yale University Press Web Site, (April 16, 2003), publisher's description of American Genre Painting.*

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Johns, Elizabeth 1937-

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