Early Morning Work

Media - 1967.59.1082 - SAAM-1967.59.1082_1 - 51967
Copied William H. Johnson, Early Morning Work, ca. 1940, oil on burlap, 38 1245 58 in. (97.8115.9 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.1082

Artwork Details

Early Morning Work
ca. 1940
Not on view
38 1245 58 in. (97.8115.9 cm.)
lower left in black paint: W. H. Johnson stretcher verso upper right in black: CAT #25 mount verso center right in red crayon: Early Morning Work (underlined, written sideways) frame verso right in pencil: Early Moring Work
Credit Line
Gift of the Harmon Foundation
Mediums Description
oil on burlap
  • Group
  • Figure group — family
  • African American
  • Animal — donkey
Object Number

Artwork Description

Early Morning Work presents a clear narrative: the day’s chores must be done. But the scene is more than a reminiscence of farm life. It affirms the idea that Southern blacks maintained connections with the cultural heritage of Africa. Though seemingly primitive, the flattened forms and deliberately naïve perspective Johnson used were informed by years of artistic discipline. The man’s profile is a beautifully rendered drawing of an African mask. Hands and mule hoofs are disproportionately large, while the horizontal stripes offer a visual cadence punctuated by the circular forms of a wheel and chickens pecking at the ground.

African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond, 2012