John H. McFadden made his fortune in cotton. His great-grandfather, George H. McFadden, founded a hardware store in Memphis. After the Civil War, farmers who were short of cash paid for goods at the store with cotton, which the McFaddens brought to mills near Philadelphia. Eventually the family business centered on the brokering of raw cotton, and grew into an international operation. John had a house in Philadelphia, but until 1913 settled primarily in Liverpool to handle the dealings with northern English industrial centers. His brother George ran the American end of the business. McFadden began collecting art in 1892, concentrating exclusively on important British paintings by 1895. During his entire twenty-year period of collecting, he dealt only through the London firm of Thomas Agnew & Sons, relying on the advice of close friend William Lockett Agnew [1858-1919]. The First World War interrupted his collecting, and he returned to America in 1913. Back in England in 1916, McFadden hired William Roberts, an art historian/antiquarian bookseller, to catalogue his collection. The paintings were displayed in McFadden's Philadelphia mansion until it was torn down in 1916. For several months they were shown at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, followed by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, while McFadden had built on the site of his mansion the high-rise Wellington apartments. He moved into the thirteenth and fourteenth floors and re-hung his pictures in much the same arrangement as they were in the demolished mansion. The rooms themselves were also reproduced after those in the original house, but up here they were seen in light unhindered by surrounding buildings, and "above the city dust line". McFadden opened these rooms to the public on Wednesdays. Conservative in nature, the collection was largely comprised of portraits and landscapes by well-respected British artists. McFadden left his pictures to the city of Philadelphia, on condition that a city art museum in which to house them safely be completed within seven years. Otherwise the paintings would go to the Metropolitan in New York. Philadelphia managed to finish its museum and acquire the bequest. Later, in the 1940's and fifties, one of McFadden's three children, John Jr. (Jack), also donated several paintings to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Some of John H. McFadden's other activities included acting as a trustee for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Pennsylvania School of Industrial Art, and the Jefferson Hospital. Around 1910, he helped finance the cancer researches of Dr. Hugh Campbell Ross, and he donated generously for studies on cancer and measles at the Lister Institute of London. He also helped finance the trans-Antarctic expedition of Sir Ernest Shackleton.
Dorment, Richard. British Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art From the Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Century. Philadelphia, 1986: xiii-xv.