John Seward Johnson II

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John Seward Johnson II
Born(1930-04-16)April 16, 1930
DiedMarch 10, 2020(2020-03-10) (aged 89)
Barbara Kline
(m. 1956; div. 1965)
Joyce Horton
(m. 1965)
Children3, including John Seward Johnson III
Parent(s)John Seward Johnson I
Ruth Dill

John Seward Johnson II (April 16, 1930 – March 10, 2020), also known as J. Seward Johnson Jr. and Seward Johnson, was an American artist known for trompe-l'œil painted bronze statues. He was a grandson of Robert Wood Johnson I, the co-founder of Johnson & Johnson, and of Colonel Thomas Melville Dill of Bermuda.

He designed life-size bronze statues that were castings of living people, depicting them engaged in day-to-day activities. A large staff of technicians did the fabrication of the works he designed. Computers and digital technology often were used in the manufacturing process. Sometimes the manufacture was contracted in China. He was the founder of Grounds For Sculpture, a 42-acre (17 ha) sculpture park and museum located in Hamilton Township, Mercer County, New Jersey.

Early life[edit]

Johnson was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey on April 16, 1930.[3] His father was John Seward Johnson I, and his mother was Ruth Dill, the sister of actress Diana Dill, making him a first cousin of actor Michael Douglas. Johnson grew up with five siblings: Mary Lea Johnson Richards, Elaine Johnson, Diana Melville Johnson, Jennifer Underwood Johnson, and James Loring "Jimmy" Johnson. His parents divorced around 1937. His father remarried two years later, producing his only brother, Jimmy Johnson, making him an uncle to film director Jamie Johnson.[4]

Johnson attended Forman School for dyslexics.[5] Later, he attended the University of Maine, where he majored in poultry husbandry, but did not graduate.[6] Johnson also served four years in the United States Navy during the Korean War.[5]


Allow Me, Portland, Oregon, US
Waiting, Sydney, Australia

Johnson worked for Johnson & Johnson until 1962, when he was fired by his uncle Robert Wood Johnson II, who had turned the family business into one of the world's largest healthcare corporations.[7]

Johnson maintained a studio in Princeton, New Jersey and later, another at a site in Mercerville, New Jersey that formerly had been used for the New Jersey State Fair.[8]

His early artistic efforts focused on painting, after which he turned to sculpture in 1968. Examples of his statues include:

Unconditional Surrender, Sarasota, Florida, US
  • Copyright Infringement (1994), at Grounds for Sculpture (a facility founded by Johnson) is a sculpture that he named to flaunt his disdain for criticism of his copies of the iconic works of fine art artists with international recognition. It represents the fine artist Édouard Manet, whose work he has copied.
  • Unconditional Surrender (a series with several material versions begun in 2005), a spokesperson for Johnson has stated that this series is based on a photograph that is in the public domain, Kissing the War Goodbye, by Victor Jorgensen,[13] however, the Jorgensen photographic image does not extend low enough to include the lower legs and shoes of the subjects, revealed in Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous photograph, V–J day in Times Square, that are represented identically in the statue. A spokesperson for Life has called it a copyright infringement of the latter image.[13] Nonetheless, the first version, a bronze statue in life-size, was placed on temporary exhibition during the 2005 anniversary of V-J Day at the Times Square Information Center near where the original photographs were taken in Manhattan.[14]
Several slightly differing twenty-five-feet-tall-versions have been constructed in styrofoam and aluminum with little detail, painted, and put on display by Johnson in San Diego, California,[13][15] Key West, Florida, Snug Harbor in New York, and Sarasota, Florida. Their immensity has drawn crowds of viewers at each site although the view of them from nearby is severely limited, essentially allowing a vista of the legs and up the skirt. The statues have been described as kitsch by one critic.[13] Johnson later would dub the statue "Embracing Peace",[16] which he treated as a double entendre when spoken.
A proposal to establish a permanent location for a copy on the Sarasota bay front generated a heated controversy about the suitability of the statue to the location, suitability as a military service memorial,[17] the permanent placement of any statue on that public property, as well as the particular issues of lack of originality, mechanical construction, copyright infringement, and the kitsch allegations about the statue.[18][19] In final agreement documents with the purchaser (a private person), Johnson committed the purchase price to cover copyright liability damages in order to have the statue placed. The city was wary of accepting a gift from the purchaser that might result in a financial loss from a possible legal battle that evidenced merit, according to the city attorney.[20]
In October 2014, French feminist group Osez La Feminisme ! petitioned to have a copy of the statue, erected at a World War II memorial in Normandy in September 2014,[21] removed and sent back to the United States, criticizing it as "immortali[zing] a sexual assault"[22]
Controversies surrounding the statue still existed in Sarasota at the close of 2021,[23] when the question of whether to place a sign addressing them was presented to the city commission at a public meeting in Sarasota on December 6.[24]
Big Sister, Brisbane, Australia
  • Big Sister, just outside the Pig 'N' Whistle pub and Michael's Restaurant at 123 Eagle Street, part of the Celebrating the Familiar series
  • Morris Frank and Buddy (2005) - a statue of the co-founder of The Seeing Eye and the first guide dog for the blind trained in the US stands in the Morristown Green in New Jersey. Frank is shown giving the "forward" command to his dog.[25]
  • First Ride (2006), a statue of a father helping his young daughter learn to ride a bike, in Carmel, Indiana.[26]
Newspaper Reader, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, US
  • Newspaper Reader (1981), at the entrance to Steinman Park, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The gentleman is looking at three Newspapers - The Lancaster New Era reporting the Apollo moon landing (July 21, 1969), The Intelligencer Journal reporting Three Mile Island nuclear accident (March 29, 1979) and the paper he is holding, the September 16, 1923 edition, reporting that the Steinman brothers challenged the no-work-on-Sunday blue laws by publishing the Sunday News for the first time.
  • Forever Marilyn (2011), a 26-foot (7.9 m), 17-ton representation of Marilyn Monroe standing over a gusty subway grate in her appearance in The Seven Year Itch. Until 2012, the statue was located at Pioneer Court in Chicago, where it attracted many visitors and some controversy for its risque features.[27] It was moved to downtown Palm Springs, California in 2012. In July 2013 plans were announced that it would be moved to New Jersey for a 2014 exhibit honoring Johnson at the Grounds For Sculpture.[28]
  • Magic Fountain, New Brunswick, New Jersey, US
    Magic Fountain stands outside The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children's Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey.[29] The fountain features metallic children playing in the fountain and splashing around.[30]

For statues made in a series named, Iconic, by Johnson,[31] many of which are very large, a computer program is employed that translates two-dimensional images into statues that are constructed by a machine driven by the program. Often, these subjects are images that already are well known as the works of others, generating heated ethical controversies regarding copyright infringement and derivative works due to substantial similarity issues.

Johnson's works were selected by the United States Information Agency to represent the freedoms of the United States in a public and private partnership enterprise representation sponsored by General Motors and many other US corporations at the World EXPO celebration in Seville, Spain during 1992.[31]


Johnson's work was labeled as "kitsch" in a 1984 article by an art professor and critic at Princeton University, who explained its rejection as he was commenting on a controversy raging about the work in New Haven, Connecticut.[32]

His 2003 show at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Beyond the Frame: Impressionism Revisited, which presented his statues imitating famous Impressionist paintings, was a success with audiences, but was panned nationally by acknowledged art critics such as Blake Gopnik writing for The Washington Post and drew strong criticism[vague] from curators at other museums about a prominent museum of fine art presenting an exhibit of his work.[33][34]


Johnson was the chairman and CEO of The Atlantic Foundation, the foundation created by his father, John Seward Johnson I, in 1963. Johnson created the Johnson Atelier Technical Institute of Sculpture, an educational, nonprofit casting and fabrication facility in 1974 as a means of fostering young sculptors' talents, while creating a foundry designed to construct his statues that is so well-equipped and staffed that it is chosen by many renowned sculptors.[31] Educational programs at the Atelier ceased in 2004. The Johnson Atelier now operates as a division of The Sculpture Foundation. Johnson continued to make his sculpture at the facility but casting often was performed off premises, with some of his larger works being cast in the People's Republic of China.

He also founded an organization named "The Sculpture Foundation", to promote his works. In 1987, he published Celebrating the Familiar: The Sculpture of J. Seward Johnson, Jr.[31]

Under Johnson's direction, The Atlantic Foundation purchased the old New Jersey Fairgrounds in Hamilton, New Jersey and in 1992 founded the Grounds For Sculpture to display work completed at the Johnson Atelier and other outdoor exhibitions. In 2000 park operations were transferred to a new public charity with the same intent that continues to operate the park.[31]

He was president of the International Sculpture Center of Hamilton, New Jersey, which publishes a magazine out of offices in Washington, D.C.[31]

Johnson also was the president of a large oceanographic research institution in Florida that had been founded by his father. The institution published a science magazine.

Johnson and his wife funded the construction of The Joyce and Seward Johnson Theater for the Theater for the New City, an Off-Broadway theater in New York City.[31]

Personal life[edit]

Johnson was excluded from his father's will, which left the bulk of his fortune to Barbara Piasecka Johnson, his father's wife and former chambermaid. He and his siblings sued on grounds that their father was not mentally competent at the time he signed the will. It was settled out of court, and the children were granted about 12% of the fortune.[35]

Johnson was formerly married to Barbara Kline. She often engaged in extramarital affairs in their home, driving Johnson to attempt suicide.[4][36][37] In 1965, he acknowledged paternity to Jenia Anne "Cookie" Johnson to speed up the divorce process.[38][39] Years later, Johnson's family had a legal battle regarding Cookie Johnson's eligibility for a share in the Johnson & Johnson fortune. The court ruled in favor of Cookie.[40]

Johnson later married Joyce Horton, a novelist. They had two children, John Seward Johnson III and actress Clelia Constance Johnson, who is credited as "India Blake."[5]

Johnson died from cancer at his home in Key West, Florida on March 10, 2020, at the age of 89.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Oppenheimer, Jerry (2013). Crazy Rich: Power, Scandal, and Tragedy Inside the Johnson & Johnson Dynasty. ISBN 978-1250010933. Retrieved 2020-03-15 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ Goldsmith, Barbara (2011). Johnson v. Johnson. ISBN 978-0307800367 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ a b Genzlinger, Neil (March 12, 2020). "J. Seward Johnson Jr., Sculptor of the Hyper-Real, Dies at 89". The New York Times. Retrieved March 12, 2020.
  4. ^ a b McMurran, Kristin. "The Band-Aid Heir Left All He Owned to His Widow, but His Children Claim It Was Just Seward's Folly". Retrieved 2013-04-09.
  5. ^ a b c Reed, J. D. (June 30, 2002). "Seward's Follies". The New York Times. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
  6. ^ "Chris Farrell Membership – "Online Success – Made Simple..."". Retrieved 2013-04-09.[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ "A Matter of Opinion". Retrieved 2013-04-09.
  8. ^ Seward Johnson
  9. ^ "'Spring,' Dedicated 1979". Special Collections Research Center, William & Mary Libraries. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  10. ^ Hogan, Claire (19 February 2019). "Stranger Places: The 'Spring' Statue". Flat Hat News. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  11. ^ Nguyen, Daniel (14 November 2017). "Hofstra's most overlooked art is right outside". Hofstra Chronicle. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  12. ^ Johnson's site
  13. ^ a b c d Robert L. Pincus, "Port surrenders in the battle against kitsch Archived 2011-07-17 at the Wayback Machine", San Diego Union-Tribune, March 11, 2007.
  14. ^ "V-J Day Is Replayed, but the Lip-Lock's Tamer This Time", New York Times, August 15, 2005.
  15. ^ midnight (2009-11-08). "comparison with other statues placed at San Diego". Retrieved 2013-04-09.
  16. ^ Martinez, Alanna, Monumental – and Controversial – ’Kissing Sailor’ Sculpture Comes to Times Square, Observer, August 12, 2015
  17. ^ "criticism by veteran and former Life magazine editor, Sarasota Herald Tribune, August 22, 2009". Retrieved 2013-04-09.
  18. ^ "Notice: Trying to get property of non-object in /var/www/lib/inc/header.php on line 37 – Videos Notice: Trying to get property of non-object in /var/www/lib/inc/header.php on line 38". Retrieved 2013-04-09.
  19. ^ "Unconditional Surrender Statue". 1945-08-14. Retrieved 2013-04-09.
  20. ^ "Ogles, Jacob, Unconditional Surrender Deal to Be Finalized Today, SRQ Daily, June 11, 2010". 2010-11-06. Retrieved 2013-04-09.
  21. ^ "WWII kissing statue lands in Normandy". Associated Press. 23 September 2014.
  22. ^ "Iconic 'kiss' sculpture depicts sexual assault says French feminist group".
  23. ^ Franklin, Kelly, Project Delta Dawn: time to wake up to the facts of Life, Project Delta Dawn, accessed January 26, 2022
  24. ^ Sarasota Agenda Item IX.2) Direction Re: Unconditional Surrender Interpretive Signage, Sarasota Granicus video, city of Sarasota, December 6, 2021
  25. ^ "Morris Frank and Buddy". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 2021-11-16.
  26. ^ "Arts and Design District Hosts New Holiday Event" (PDF). City of Carmel Newsletter. 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-05-08.
  27. ^ Bishoff, Dan, Grounds for Sculpture opens Seward Johnson exhibit that's larger than life, for Star-Ledger, May 4, 2014, with images
  28. ^ "Business News: Forever Marilyn to Stay in Palm Springs until Mid-November". The Public Record. 37 (32): 3. July 30, 2013. ISSN 0744-205X. OCLC 8101482.
  29. ^ "Magic Fountain, The | Seward Johnson Atelier". Retrieved 2020-04-27.
  30. ^ Chi, Sheena (2009-11-14), Designed by J. Seward Johnson, Jr., retrieved 2020-04-27
  31. ^ a b c d e f g "Seward Johnson". Seward Johnson. Retrieved 2013-04-09.
  32. ^ Neuhaus, Cable (1984-03-26). "Cast in Bronze and Controversy, Sculptor J. Seward Johnson's Works Find No Haven in New Haven". Retrieved 2010-06-08.
  33. ^ Gopnik, Blake (2012-08-21). "A Bad Impression. At the Corcoran Gallery, Seward Johnson's Travesty in Three Dimensions". Washington Post.[dead link]
  34. ^ Clemonson, Lynette (2005-05-28). "Corcoran, After Dispute, Casts About for New Path". The New York Times.
  35. ^ Margolick, David (May 4, 1990). "Mary Lea Johnson Richards, 63, Founder of Production Company". The New York Times.
  36. ^ Lovenheim, Barbara (June 21, 1987). "Family Fortune: Tangled Tale". The New York Times. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
  37. ^ New York Magazine. 1987-02-23. p. 129. Retrieved 2013-04-09.
  38. ^ Jackson, Herb. "NJCA in the News". Retrieved 2013-04-09.
  39. ^ Editors, Silver Lake (April 2001). Page 14. ISBN 9781563437441. Retrieved 2013-04-09. {{cite book}}: |last1= has generic name (help)
  40. ^ Editors, Silver Lake (April 2001). Pages 14–17. ISBN 9781563437441. Retrieved 2013-04-09. {{cite book}}: |last1= has generic name (help)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to John Seward Johnson II at Wikimedia Commons