The paintings in St John's College have been acquired over five centuries. For the most part they represent donations and bequests to the College made by alumni and benefactors, though St John's has from time to time commissioned works from prominent artists, particularly when commemorating the famous or when thanking generous Johnians. Examples of the work of many prominent portrait painters are found in the collection: Mary Beale, Alexis-Simon Belle, George Romney, Henry William Pickersgill, and Michael Noakes being just a few. As might be expected, most oil paintings in the Collection are portraits of Masters, Fellows, and other alumni. An exception to this is the Samuel Butler collection, which is also the largest by any single artist. A St John’s alumnus, Butler was better known as a writer, but a substantial collection of his work was presented to St John’s in the first part of the twentieth century by Henry Festing Jones. A number of Butler’s paintings show scenes in Italy, where he sketched quickly and often directly onto board.
It is stressed that the paintings at St John's College are not in public ownership. In accordance with the charitable aims of the College, which is a private institution, we are including our paintings on this website to widen public awareness and for the benefit of scholarship. The paintings are hung throughout the College, mainly in private areas, with only those in the Chapel regularly on public view. Access to paintings other than those in the Chapel is normally limited to those involved in academic research, though other requests are sympathetically considered wherever possible. Those interested should apply to the Librarian.