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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



Johnson studied art in New York and spent a decade in Europe before returning to teach at the Harlem Community Art Center. There he adopted a primitive, almost folk style and began to paint the African American community. The spindly limbs, large hands, and oval heads of this farm family resemble forms in African sculpture that Johnson sketched. His subject—sharecroppers working marginal land—is based on memories of Johnson's childhood in rural South Carolina.