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William H. Johnson

Early Morning Work
about 1940
oil
38 1/2 x 45 5/8 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation

A farm family is up with the chickens and the daily ritual of hard work has begun, from gathering water to plowing the fields. Their one-room house, shaded by a single tree, is as humble as the family is stoic in dealing with the cyclical nature of their rural existence in the South. Based on strong contrasts in color and the energy of diagonals, this dynamic composition banishes any impression of an idyllic pastoral scene and delivers instead powerful commentary on black labor, inspired by Johnson's childhood experiences as a native of rural South Carolina.