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Joshua Johnson
Portrait of Sea Captain John Murphy
about 1810
oil
21 1/2 x 17 1/2 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Leonard and Paula Granoff



Captain John Murphy, an immigrant from Ireland, lived with his wife in Baltimore, where Joshua Johnson painted many merchants, seamen, and their families. Johnson, a self-trained artist and former slave, is the earliest documented professional African American painter. In these portraits—intended to hang side-by-side—the artist delighted in fine details, from the captain's tousled hair to his wife's sheer lace collar.