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Johnson Heir’s Widow Opens Museum-Like Estate For Tour

June 5, 1986

PRINCETON, N.J. (AP) _ Barbara Piasecka Johnson, who received more than $300 million in a settlement of the estate of Johnson & Johnson heir J. Seward Johnson, on Wednesday hosted the first public tour of her $20 million home to show off what she called ″the quality of my money.″

Mrs. Johnson, 49, Johnson’s third wife and principal beneficiary, called the tour for more than two dozen reporters, photographers and television camermen her ″victory party.″

The one-time chambermaid said she planned to build a public museum on the 140-acre estate, called ″Jasna Polana″ - Polish for bright glade.

She said her family members were wealthy landowners in a part of Poland that was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939, and she came to the United States as a refugee in 1968. She married Johnson in 1971.

The home is filled with Renaissance and Baroque paintings, sculpture, furniture and art objects.

The artists include Rembrandt, Rubens, Gauguin, Francesca and Raphael. In the dining room is what she said is the only privately owned painting by the 15th century Italian monk Fra Angelico. It depicts the madonna and child.

″It’s of the same class as Leonardo da Vinci,″ said Mrs. Johnson, who holds a master’s degree in art history from a Polish university.

The works include Flemish tapestries from the early 16th century - ″I probably have a hundred tapestries,″ she said - a dozen ornate chairs from the 17th century and a gilded writing desk owned by the French king Louis XVI.

″You’re standing on a king’s carpet,″ she said while in the dining room. The 16th century piece belonged to Louis XIV.

″I know that I have gorgeous masterpieces. I like to share this beauty with others,″ Mrs. Johnson told the touring reporters.

Picture-taking was banned inside the house for security reasons.

Mrs. Johnson said she could not estimate the value of the collection.

The media tour, which included a question-and-answer session in the garden and lunch on the patio, came two days after the settlement was announced in the battle over Johnson’s $500 million estate. The settlement ended a bitter, three-year family feud over Johnson’s last will, which his six children from previous marriages claimed was signed under duress.

Mrs. Johnson’s lawyer, Marvin Schwartz, told her not to answer questions about the case.

The settlement, which includes about $42.5 million for the children, was announced Monday just before it would have gone to the jury in the 16-week trial in Manhattan Surrogate Court. The government will get about $80 million in taxes.

Harbor Branch, the Florida-based oceanographic institute Johnson founded in 1971, gets $20 million in cash. It had been left out of the contested will.

Johnson, son of a founder of the health care company based in New Brunswick, died of prostate cancer three years ago at age 87.

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