Art Class

Media - 1967.59.579 - SAAM-1967.59.579_1 - 81304
Copied William H. Johnson, Art Class, ca. 1939-1940, oil on plywood, 32 7829 in. (83.573.6 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.579

Artwork Details

Art Class
ca. 1939-1940
Not on view
32 7829 in. (83.573.6 cm.)
lower left in red oil: W.H. Johnson back upper left in chalk: 29 back upper right in felt-tipped pen and ink: #579 NCFA cat. back upper center in grease crayon: W.H. JOHNSON
Credit Line
Gift of the Harmon Foundation
Mediums Description
oil on plywood
  • Figure group — female
  • African American
  • Occupation — education — student
  • Object — art tool — palette
  • Object — art tool — easel
Object Number

Artwork Description

In the late 1930s, William H. Johnson adopted a self-consciously “primitive” style that masked a sophisticated understanding of how to compose a picture. This image is carefully constructed so that all the parts of the painting spin off of the brilliant blue in the girl’s dress at the center of the canvas. The curved chairs, floorboards and diagonal lines of the easels create a two-dimensional pattern that Johnson filled with brilliant color. Art Class reflects Johnson’s experience teaching in a Harlem community center funded by New Deal initiatives such as the Works Progress Administration, which gave young African American artists far greater opportunities than Johnson had known just after World War I, when he was young and ambitious.