Larger Type
Smaller Type

Search Collections

Malvin Gray Johnson Portrait

Malvin Gray Johnson

Also Known as: Malvin G. Johnson

Greensboro, North Carolina 1896

New York, New York 1934

Photo Caption:
Malvin Gray Johnson, Self Portrait, 1934, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum,Gift of the Harmon Foundation 1967.57.30.


Malvin Gray Johnson was active during the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930s. He simplified the forms of his subjects and occasionally emphasized his African past by including African imagery in his paintings.

Paintings by African Americans from the collection of the National Museum of American Art: A Book of Postcards (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art in cooperation with Pomegranate Artbooks, 1991)

Additional Biographies

Luce Artist Biography

Malvin Gray Johnson's older sister Maggie gave him his first art supplies and drawing lessons when he was a child. He entered his artworks in contests in his hometown's annual fairs and, according to Maggie, "won first prize on each of them every year." At the age of sixteen, Johnson moved to New York City and enrolled at the National Academy of Design, working as a clerk and a janitor to pay his tuition. He left school temporarily to serve in World War I, but returned to New York in 1923, where he experienced the Harlem Renaissance firsthand. A few years later, Johnson won a $250 prize from an exhibit sponsored by the Harmon Foundation and continued to show his works with the foundation for the remainder of his career. In the last year of his life, Johnson participated in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal program the Public Works of Art Project, before dying suddenly of heart failure. Shortly after his death, a fellow artist praised Johnson for having contributed "some of the best painted records of contemporary Negro life." (DeCwikiel-Kane, "New attention for Harlem Renaissance artist with Greensboro roots," The North Carolina Piedmont Triad, February 28, 2010)