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Mom and Dad

1944 William H. Johnson Born: Florence, South Carolina 1901 Died: Central Islip, New York 1970 oil on paperboard 31 x 25 3/8 in. (78.7 x 64.5 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of the Harmon Foundation 1967.59.1012 Not currently on view


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In Mom and Dad the light background emphasizes “Mom Alice’s” dark coloring and direct gaze and may also signal a family history that William H. Johnson hinted at in other details. The calico cat nursing a kitten and the portrait of Henry Johnson as a light-skinned man likely refer to William’s mixed racial heritage (Powell, Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson, 1991). Johnson changed his painting style in the late 1930s and began creating self-consciously “primitive” scenes of African American life. When he returned home to Florence, South Carolina, in 1944, this professional change took on a personal dimension as he attempted to reconnect with his family.

Keywords

Animal - cat

Ethnic - African-American

Object - art object - painting

Object - furniture - chair

Portrait female - Johnson, Alice - full length

Portrait male - Johnson, Henry - bust

painting

paint - oil

paperboard