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Portrait of John H. McFadden

Philip A. de László (English (born Hungary), 1869–1937)

John H. McFadden, 1850–1921

Unlike other major art collectors of the day, John Howard McFadden selected a single school of painting—the British School—as the source of his acquisitions, focusing on late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century portraits and landscapes. As a result, his collection comprised a rich and unified group of forty-three paintings by artists such as Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable, and George Romney.

McFadden’s profession as a cotton broker at his firm’s office in Liverpool, England, provided him with the financial and logistical means to assemble his art holdings, which he acquired over a twenty-year period, beginning in 1892, working exclusively with London dealer Thomas Agnew and Company. Having left Europe because of World War I, McFadden returned to England in 1916 and completed his collection with a purchase of seven paintings that the press considered “first rank.”

McFadden bequeathed his collection to the city of Philadelphia with the caveat that a suitable building be constructed to house it within seven years of his death, thereby providing further impetus to ensure that the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s new neoclassical home would open to the public, albeit unfinished, by 1928. Although much work was still needed to complete the interior, the McFadden collection—which formed the cornerstone of the institution’s holdings of English art before 1900—was displayed in the Museum’s inaugural exhibition. Director Fiske Kimball ensured this by purchasing four Georgian period rooms in which McFadden’s paintings of the same period were hung. Three of the rooms are from Sutton Scarsdale Hall in Derbyshire; the fourth is from Wrightington Hall, near Wigan, Lancashire. Today, visitors can still find McFadden’s paintings on display in galleries 277–280.

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