In Context: J. Edward Johnston Portrait
One day a grandson of J. Edward Johnston visited an antiques shop and saw a face that he recognized: that of his grandfather, whose first wife had been Katharine Reynolds. The grandson knew Johnston, who died in 1951, only from family photographs.
In early March 2020, Lawrence White gave the portrait of his grandfather to Reynolda House. The portrait’s painter is also something of a find. Frank Owen Salisbury was English, not American, but he painted a rather well-known set of folks—among them, King George V; King George VI at his coronation; the young Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation; Winston Churchill (more times than any other artist); U.S. President Calvin Coolidge and his wife, Grace; and President Franklin D. Roosevelt for his official White House portrait.
As Deputy Director Phil Archer noted in a recent talk about Johnston, Salisbury’s portrait was likely done sometime in the 1920s. Johnston and Katharine married in 1921, after her three years of mourning the death of her husband, R.J. Reynolds. He enjoyed equestrian sports; Salisbury painted him dressed in fox-hunting clothes. Johnston also started a polo club, and Katharine built him a polo grounds on the estate, along what later became Polo Road. Johnston, who graduated from Davidson College and served in World War I, was hired in 1919 by Katharine to be the Superintendent of the Reynolda School.
Phil notes that in the painting, Salisbury depicts Johnston as “a figure of privilege and easy athleticism. It may be surprising to learn that Edward was painted by the de facto court painter to the Royal House of Windsor, but Katharine and Edward were true Anglophiles. It’s worth noting, too, that Edward would later receive the Order of the British Empire for his work in liberating prisoners of war during World War II.”