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Off to War

ca. 1942-1944 William H. Johnson Born: Florence, South Carolina 1901 Died: Central Islip, New York 1970 oil on plywood 25 1/8 x 32 5/8 in. (63.9 x 83.0 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of the Harmon Foundation 1967.59.605 Not currently on view


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In 1942, on National Negro Achievement Day, William H. Johnson received a certificate of honor for his “distinguished service to America in Art.” The award recognized his scenes of black soldiers, which Johnson began painting after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Off to War shows a young man leaving his family in the rural South. Just up the road, a figure on a bus sticks his head out to urge him on. The family forms a pattern of red, white and blue that contrasts with the menacing, bile-colored horizon. Three telephone poles like the crosses on Calvary march into the distance, conveying a blessing on the young soldier or suggesting perhaps the sacrifice that he might have to make.

Keywords

Architecture Exterior - domestic - farmhouse

Ethnic - African-American

Figure group - family

Object - other - flag

Occupation - military - soldier

painting

paint - oil

wood - plywood