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William H. Johnson

Café
about 1939–40
oil
36 1/2 x 28 3/8 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation

Johnson produced a series of empathetic vignettes of the Harlem community following his return from Europe in 1930. This jaunty couple would attract the attention of even a casual observer. The woman's red gloves, platform shoes, and magenta hat are bold counterpoints to her simple white dress. Her companion's broad-shouldered plaid suit marks him as equally conscious of the period's urban fashions. Their body language raises intriguing questions, as the woman gazes hard at the man and places her gloved hand on his shoulder while he looks away…is her gesture one of casual affection as he scans the café scene or of possessiveness as she tries to regain his attention?