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Sun Setting, Denmark

ca. 1930 William H. Johnson Born: Florence, South Carolina 1901 Died: Central Islip, New York 1970 oil on burlap 20 3/4 x 25 3/8 in. (52.7 x 64.5 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of the Harmon Foundation 1967.59.720 Smithsonian American Art Museum
Luce Foundation Center, 4th Floor, 30B

Luce Center Quote

“Have just done a good picture . . . the old port in Kerteminde . . . with the sun setting along the waters over the horizon with a fishing boat in the water to balance the old port on the other side of the canvas . . . I’m quite pleased with it.” Letter from the artist, 1930, in Powell, Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson, 1991

Luce Center Label

The swirling colors and blocky brushstrokes of Sun Setting recall the work of Vincent van Gogh, one of William H. Johnson’s favorite painters. The sun radiates dashes of color that animate the landscape in every direction. Johnson often viewed the scenes he wanted to paint through a concave “fish lens” that distorted the terrain into unnatural shapes and wobbly horizons (Powell, Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson, 1991). He used this optical effect as a starting point, and painted the countryside so that the land expressed the resilience and strength of Denmark’s people.


Landscape - Denmark - Kerteminde

Landscape - time - sunset

Occupation - industry - fishing

Waterscape - boat

Waterscape - harbor


paint - oil

fabric - burlap