Winterthur shows off centuries old Easter bunny painting

It’s one of the earliest American depictions of the Easter bunny, and it goes on display starting on Good Friday at Delaware’s Winterthur Museum.

The bunny was drawn on a manuscript by school master Johann Conrad Gilbert in Berks County, Pa. around 1800.  It was most likely a gift for one of his students.  Winterthur’s Lisa Minardi was surprised to find the artwork up for auction last weekend at Pook & Pook auction house in Downington, Pa.  “This drawing was heretofor completely unknown.  For years, we’ve known about the one at Williamsburg, but nobody that I’ve ever heard knew that another Easter rabbit drawing existed,” Minardi says.  

Gilbert emigrated to Berks County from Germany in 1757.  It was Gilbert’s fellow German immigrants who brought the egg toting bunny tradition to America. Those immigrants called the bunny “Oschter Haws” and had their children prepare nests for him in a garden or barn- nests that would evolve into the modern day Easter basket.  The rabbit would then lay his colored eggs in thoses nests as payment.  It’s still not clear why a rabbit would lay eggs.

The bunny drawing will go on display this Friday, just in time for the Easter holiday.  It is scheduled to stay in the museum’s main gallery through Mother’s Day, then it will be taken down for some restoration work.  “It will be treated by our paper conservator in-house, just because it’s never had any conservation work done, so we want to remove a little bit of the dirt and grime that’s just accumulated over 200 years or so,” says Minardi.  The drawing will then go on long term display with the rest of the museum’s collection.

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According to the Pook & Pook auction house website, the museum purchased the piece for $28,440.

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