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Self-Portrait

1929 William H. Johnson Born: Florence, South Carolina 1901 Died: Central Islip, New York 1970 oil on canvas 23 1/4 x 18 1/4 in. (59.0 x 46.3 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of the Harmon Foundation 1967.59.762 Not currently on view


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The exaggerated features and thickly painted background in this self-portrait reflect William H. Johnson's admiration for European expressionist painters. When he first showed these works in the United States, one critic complained that Johnson was too influenced by foreign styles, while another argued that "a man is an artist first and an American afterwards" (Powell, Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson, 1991). Self-Portrait reveals that Johnson's first trip to Europe had shaped not only his style but his self-image, and had set him on a path toward the "primitive" and "spiritual" truth that he felt all good art must possess.

Keywords

Ethnic - African-American

Occupation - art - painter

Occupation - art - printmaker

Portrait male - Johnson, William H. - bust

Portrait male - Johnson, William H. - self-portrait

painting

paint - oil

fabric - canvas