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Moon over Harlem

ca. 1943-1944 William H. Johnson Born: Florence, South Carolina 1901 Died: Central Islip, New York 1970 oil on plywood 28 1/2 x 35 3/4 in. (72.5 x 90.8 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of the Harmon Foundation 1967.59.577 Not currently on view


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Moon over Harlem commemorates the riots of 1943, when a confrontation between a white police officer, a black woman, and a black soldier resulted in a melee of fighting and burning that left several killed and hundreds wounded. William H. Johnson based the pairs of figures at the left and right margins on photographs of rioters arrested by white officers. But Johnson painted the police as black men, and the ground is strewn with empty liquor bottles, as if the artist wanted to suggest that the people of Harlem were brutalizing themselves through their own behavior.

Keywords

Cityscape - New York - Harlem

Figure group

Figure(s) in exterior

Landscape - celestial - moon

Occupation - service - policeman

State of being - evil - violence

painting

paint - oil

wood - plywood