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1930 William H. Johnson Born: Florence, South Carolina 1901 Died: Central Islip, New York 1970 oil on canvas, mounted on masonite 21 5/8 x 18 1/4 in. (54.8 x 46.3 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of the Harmon Foundation 1967.59.748 Smithsonian American Art Museum
Luce Foundation Center, 4th Floor, 30B

Luce Center Label

William H. Johnson returned home to South Carolina in 1930 after twelve years away. In this portrait of his sixteen-year-old brother, Jim, it is tempting to see an image of “Willie” when he was Jim’s age and setting off on his own. The background, almost equally divided between dark and light pigments, evokes Johnson’s position between two different worlds. He had been teased as a mixed-race child because of his relatively fair skin and wavy hair. When he left Florence, South Carolina, in 1918, he had followed the path of white American artists, training in New York City and traveling to Europe. But the praise he won shortly before he returned to his hometown called attention to his black ancestry once again, transforming Johnson into a symbol of the “New Negro” (Powell, Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson, 1991).


Ethnic - African-American

Portrait male - Johnson, Jim - bust


paint - oil

fabric - canvas

wood - masonite