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Luce Foundation Center for American Art

Painting: 20th century: Blind Musician
Blind Musician

Blind Musician
about 1940
William H. Johnson
oil on plywood
36 3/8 x 28 1/4 in. (92.2 x 71.6 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation

William H. Johnson’s paintings of African Americans were often based on scenes he remembered from his life in South Carolina and later in Harlem. Johnson may have based Blind Musician on such singers as Blind Boy Fuller, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, or the Reverend Gary Davis (Powell, Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson, 1991). These performers attracted notice in the South and made their way to Chicago and New York City, where their recordings helped make the blues tradition familiar to mainstream audiences. The background of crosshatched lines signals that these itinerant musicians belong in no particular place, and must make their way with only their voices, guitar, and tambourine.

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