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Early Morning Work

ca. 1940 William H. Johnson Born: Florence, South Carolina 1901 Died: Central Islip, New York 1970 oil on burlap 38 1/2 x 45 5/8 in. (97.8 x 115.9 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of the Harmon Foundation 1967.59.1082 Not currently on view

Exhibition Label

Early Morning Work presents a clear narrative: the day’s chores must be done. But the scene is more than a reminiscence of farm life. It affirms the idea that Southern blacks maintained connections with the cultural heritage of Africa. Though seemingly primitive, the flattened forms and deliberately naïve perspective Johnson used were informed by years of artistic discipline. The man’s profile is a beautifully rendered drawing of an African mask. Hands and mule hoofs are disproportionately large, while the horizontal stripes offer a visual cadence punctuated by the circular forms of a wheel and chickens pecking at the ground.

African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond, 2012


Animal - donkey

Ethnic - African-American

Figure group - family


paint - oil

fabric - burlap

fiberboard - support added