Justin McCarthy


“Justin McCarthy [1892-1977] was a genius, and all geniuses ultimately remain some what enigmatic.” So wrote Randall Morris in his introduction the recent exhibition of  McCarthy’s work at the Noyes Museum in New Jersey. His genius may be arguable but certainly he is a major self-taught artist. Never quite fitting the limited definitions of the art world, he may not be easily categorized, however his work is growing in recognition and is highly prized by many collectors.

Justin McCarthy was born in Weatherly, Pennsylvania in 1892, the son of a newspaper executive.  As a young man, he expected to become a lawyer but failed to pass the bar examination.  McCarthy pursued various schemes to make his living and finally settled into a life of raising and selling vegetables.  In 1920, McCarthy began to paint, an activity he claims resulted from a visit to Paris and the Louvre in 1907.  For many years his work was unnoticed except by customers for his patent medicines and the buyers of produce he peddled from a truck.  In the 1960s, after 40 years of painting without recognition, he began to be appreciated in outdoor art shows.  About the same time he met Sterling and Dorothy Strauser who encouraged him and brought his works to the attention of museums and collectors.  Justin McCarthy’s paintings have been exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, Everhart Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection in Williamsburg, Virginia, and the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City.  The Museum of Modern Art included his work in a traveling exhibition in 1967.

 Justin McCarthy is able to observe and translate his impressions into paintings, which have the elements, we have grown accustomed to appreciate and enjoy in much of the 20th Century painting.  McCarthy stands apart, however, because he is untrained and his innate sensibilities find expression naturally in abstract terms employed consciously by the trained artist.