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ca. 1939-1940 William H. Johnson Born: Florence, South Carolina 1901 Died: Central Islip, New York 1970 oil on paperboard 36 1/2 x 28 3/8 in. (92.7 x 72.2 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of the Harmon Foundation 1967.59.669 Smithsonian American Art Museum
2nd Floor, North Wing

Gallery Label

Johnson spent decades traveling the world, searching for the authentic spirit of ordinary people from different cultures. In the late 1930s, he found what he was looking for in his own African American community. The strong colors and silhouettes in this painting evoke the African art that black artists and writers had embraced during the Harlem Renaissance. But this affectionate couple also has the fashionable flash of zoot-suiters in the big band era. Above the table, the two figures coolly take in the café scene; below, a tangle of legs and limbs hints at the erotic energy of a night on the town.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006


Ethnic - African-American

Figure group

Figure(s) in interior - commercial

Object - foodstuff - wine

Object - other - dish

Recreation - cafe


paint - oil