Johnson, Cornelius [Cornelius Jansen, Janssen, or Jonson van Ceulen] (bap. 1593, d. 1661), painter, was baptized in London on 14 October 1593 at the Dutch church, Austin Friars, the son of Johanna le Grand and Cornelius Johnson (d. in or before 1605), an exile from Antwerp whose own grandfather, Peter Jansen, had originated in Cologne. The family sometimes used the name Jonson or Jansen van Ceulen. After his baptism no documentary reference to Johnson is found before 1619, when he witnessed the baptism of his nephew Nicasius in London. According to the antiquarian and engraver George Vertue, who knew Johnson's great-nephew Anthony Russell, the painter had come to England from Amsterdam the previous year (although Vertue was incorrect in stating that he had been born in that city; Vertue, Note books, 2.23, 5.90). From his style it is possible that Johnson did receive at least part of his training in the Netherlands in this interim period.
Johnson's earliest portraits depict the sitters at head and shoulders within a feigned stone oval, for example An Unknown Elderly Lady (1619; priv. coll.). From the outset Johnson signed and dated his worksgenerally, with the monogram C.J.making his œuvre comparatively easy to establish. Later, following his emigration to the Netherlands, he was to sign his works Cornelius Jonson van Ceulen, an allusion to his family's origins in Cologne. On 16 July 1622, Johnson married Elizabeth Beck or Beke (d. after 1661), of Colchester, at the Dutch church in London, by which date he had settled beside the River Thames in the Blackfriars area, where their son James (who presumably died young) was baptized on 30 September 1623 at St Anne's Church. Another son, Cornelius (later also a painter), was baptized there in 1634.
Throughout the 1620s Johnson produced numerous portraits of gentry, professional, and court sitters, to a consistently high technical standard. Perhaps his most assiduous patron was Thomas, first Baron Coventry, who was appointed lord keeper by Charles I, and who evidently sat to Johnson on various occasions. Signed portraits of him survive of varying dates: a three-quarter-length of 1623, another of 1627 with a signed replica of 1629, and, possibly the finest, the one dated 1631 (priv. coll.); there is another half-length of 1634 and a final image of 1639. In January 1625 the artist took on an apprentice called John Evoms. His nephew Theodore Russell is also said to have trained with him. Johnson may also have worked in collaboration with the Dutch-born royal portraitist Daniel Mytens, for in 1631 he signed a version of Mytens's full-length official portrait Charles I (priv. coll.). In 1632 Johnson was himself appointed his Majesty's servant in the quality of Picture drawer. In the same year, however, Sir Anthony Van Dyck arrived at the English court and soon monopolized the top portrait commissions. This may have been one reason why Johnson moved to Kent during the mid-1630s, where he is said to have taken up residence at Bridge near Canterbury, with a wealthy merchant of Flemish descent, Sir Arnold Braems. His clients included many sitters from Kentish families, including the Campions of Combwell, the Filmers of East Sutton, and the Oxindens of Deane. In 1638 Sir Thomas Pelham of Halland House, Sussex, paid £4 for his portrait by Johnson (accounts book, Pelham family papers, BL, Add. MS 33145, fol. 107). Johnson was himself portrayed, as a prosperous family man with his wife and son Cornelius, about 1637 by the Dutch painter Adrian Hanneman (Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede). At this period Hanneman was working in Britain, and indeed, according to Vertue, unsuccessfully courted Johnson's niece.
In 1637 Johnson painted a small full-length Charles I, again based on a Mytens pattern, included in a perspective setting painted by Hendrick van Steenwick (now in the Staatliche Kunst Sammlungen Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister), and collaborated with Gerard Houckgeest on a similar small full-length Queen Henrietta Maria (priv. coll.); as these two works entered the king's collection, they were presumably commissioned by him. In 1639 Johnson produced three small individual full-length portraits on panel of Charles I's eldest children (NPG). He was still listed among the servants of Charles I in 1641.
Alongside his head-and-shoulders, half-length, three-quarter-length, full-length, and large group portraits, on panel or canvas, Johnson produced portrait miniatures, painted in oil on metal. This was not a combination of medium and support that miniaturists working in England had previously generally used; they worked in water-based media on vellum over card. Johnson may have learned this technique overseas. He did not always sign these miniatures, but his handling of them is extremely characteristic. A pair of about 1637 depict a London-based couple of Netherlandish descent, Peter Vandeput and Sarah Hoste (priv. coll.), indicating that Johnson also had clients among his own immigrant community.
Johnson was one of the artists questioned in London by the Swiss-born physician Dr Theodore Turquet de Mayerne, who included Johnson's comments on how to use the poisonous yellow pigment orpiment in his manuscript Pictoria sculptoria et quae subalternarum artium (BL, Sloane MS 2052). Technical advice from Johnson on methods of painting draperies also cropped up in an English manuscript compiled in the 1650s by a minor graphic artist, Daniel King.
According to Vertue, at the time of the civil war it was at the persuasion of his wife that Johnson left England for the Netherlands late in 1643, taking with him such pictures and colours, bedding, household stuff, pewter and brass as belonged to himself (Finberg, Chronological list, 6). In October 1644 Johnson and his wife were recorded in Middelburg, in which city he became a member of the guild of St Luke. In 1646 he was in Amsterdam, and the following year painted the large group Magistrates of The Hague (Oude Stadhuis, The Hague). In 1650 he portrayed members of the St Sebastian guildthe archers' guildof Middelburg, a composition of seventeen figures (Middelburg town hall), and was recorded in that city again in 1652. In November 1652 he was also in Utrecht where, at his house in Heerenstraat, he made a will (private information). In 1657 he painted William of Orange (the future William III of England) as a boy (various versions; a signed and dated one is at Knole, Kent).
Johnson is thought to have died in Utrecht on 5 August 1661. His son Cornelius also practised as a painter in the Netherlands, and was recorded in Utrecht as late as 1700.
R. Ekkart, Jonson van Ceulen, Cornelis, The dictionary of art, ed. J. Turner (1996) · E. Waterhouse, Painting in Britain, 15301790, 5th edn (1994), 6062 · D. Foskett, Cornelius Johnson: miniaturist, Antique Collector, 60 (1989), 615 · M. Edmond, Limners and picturemakers, Walpole Society, 47 (197880), 60242 · K. Hearns, The English career of Cornelius Jonson van Ceulen, Leids Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek (2002) · O. Millar, The age of Charles I: painting in England, 16201649 (1972), 3035 [exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London, 15 Nov 1972 14 Jan 1973] · E. Croft-Murray and P. H. Hulton, eds., Catalogue of British drawings, 1 (1960), 3712 · M. Whinney and O. Millar, English art, 16251714 (1957), 648 · O. Millar, An attribution to Cornelius Johnson reinstated, Burlington Magazine, 90 (1948), 322 · K. E. Maison, Portraits by Cornelius Johnson in Scotland, Burlington Magazine, 74 (1939), 867 · R. Edwards, Oil miniatures by Cornelius Johnson, Burlington Magazine, 61 (1932), 1312 · H. Schneider and J. D. Milner, The portraits of Cornelius Janssen van Ceulen, Burlington Magazine, 45 (1924), 2957 · A. J. Finberg, A chronological list of portraits by Cornelius Johnson, or Jonson, Walpole Society, 10 (19212), 137, see also pl. ILXXX · A. J. Finberg, Two anonymous portraits by Cornelius Johnson, Walpole Society, 6 (191718), 113 · L. Cust, Notes on various works of art: Cornelius Janssen van Ceulen, Burlington Magazine, 16 (1910), 28081 · F. D. O. Obreen, ed., Archief voor Nederlandsche kunstgeschiedenis, 7 vols. (Rotterdam, 187790), 171 · The visitation of London, anno Domini 1633, 1634, and 1635, made by Sir Henry St George, 2, ed. J. J. Howard, Harleian Society, 17 (1883), 15 · H. Walpole, Anecdotes of painting in England: with some account of the principal artists, ed. R. N. Wornum, new edn, 3 vols. (1888), vol. 1, pp. 21115 · Vertue, Note books, 1.54, 2.123, 5.90 · J. Sandrart, Academia nobilissimae artis pictoriae (1683), 1.314 · D. King, Secrets in the noble arte of miniature or limning, c.16537, BL, Add. MS 12461; transcribed in M. K. Talley, Portrait painting in England (1981) · Pictoria sculptoria & quae subalternarum artium, 1620: le manuscrit de Turquet de Mayerne, ed. and trans. M. Faidutti and C. Versini (Lyons, [n.d.]), 1489 · private information (2004) [Marten Jan Bok]
BL, Add. MS 12461
BL, Sloane MS 2052
A. Hanneman, group portrait, oils, c.1637, Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede, Netherlands · T. Chambars, engraving, pubd 1762 (after A. Hanneman), repro. in Walpole, Anecdotes · C. de Bie, engraving (after self-portrait by C. Johnson), repro. in Het gulden cabinet (1661) [previously engraved by C. Waumans in Image de divers hommes d'esprit sublime (1649)] · W. H. Worthington, line engraving (after self-portrait by C. Johnson), BM, NPG; repro. in Walpole, Anecdotes