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ca. 1939-1940 William H. Johnson Born: Florence, South Carolina 1901 Died: Central Islip, New York 1970 oil on plywood 32 7/8 x 29 in. (83.5 x 73.6 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of the Harmon Foundation 1967.59.579 Smithsonian American Art Museum
Luce Foundation Center, 4th Floor, 31B

Luce Center Label

In the late 1930s, William H. Johnson adopted a self-consciously “primitive” style that masked a sophisticated understanding of how to compose a picture. This image is carefully constructed so that all the parts of the painting spin off of the brilliant blue in the girl’s dress at the center of the canvas. The curved chairs, floorboards and diagonal lines of the easels create a two-dimensional pattern that Johnson filled with brilliant color. Art Class reflects Johnson’s experience teaching in a Harlem community center funded by New Deal initiatives such as the Works Progress Administration, which gave young African American artists far greater opportunities than Johnson had known just after World War I, when he was young and ambitious.


Ethnic - African-American

Figure group - female

Object - art tool - easel

Object - art tool - palette

Occupation - education - student


paint - oil

wood - plywood