Harriet Tubman

Media - 1967.59.1146 - SAAM-1967.59.1146_2 - 141130
Copied William H. Johnson, Harriet Tubman, ca. 1945, oil on paperboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.1146

Artwork Details

Title
Harriet Tubman
Date
ca. 1945
Location
Not on view
Dimensions
28 7823 38 in. (73.559.3 cm)
Credit Line
Gift of the Harmon Foundation
Mediums
Mediums Description
oil on paperboard
Classifications
Keywords
  • African-American
  • Landscape — time — sunset
  • Portrait female — Tubman, Harriet — double portrait
  • History — United States — Black History
  • Occupation — other — reformer
  • African American
Object Number
1967.59.1146

Artwork Description

Johnson traced the likeness of Harriet Tubman (about 1822--1913) from a popular nineteenth-century woodcut reproduced in Carter G. Woodson's book, The Negro in Our Times. Standing tall in a striped Civil War--era dress, she holds a shotgun at her side. Behind her, paths crisscross the landscape into the distance and sketchily drawn railroad tracks suggest the escape routes she used to shepherd enslaved people to freedom. Above her, the North Star shines between the rising and setting suns. At the lower right, Johnson painted Tubman as an elderly woman, her head draped in the shawl given to her by England's Queen Victoria. 

Tubman probably used the Underground Railroad herself when she first escaped slavery in 1849, and she has long been its most famous "conductor." Between 1849 and 1862 she personally led more than eighty people to freedom and helped them find housing and jobs in the North. More than seven hundred others were freed as a result of her work as a spy for the Union army. After the Civil War, she turned her considerable skills to the cause of women's suffrage. 

 

Exhibitions

Media - 1983.95.53 - SAAM-1983.95.53_2 - 142417
Fighters for Freedom: William H. Johnson Picturing Justice
October 13, 2023February 25, 2024
William H. Johnson's Fighters for Freedom series from the mid-1940s is a tribute to African American activists, scientists, teachers, and performers as well as international heads of state working to bring peace to the world. The exhibition Fighters for Freedom: William H. Johnson Picturing Justice is drawn entirely from the collection of more than 1,000 works by William H. Johnson given to the Smithsonian American Art Museum by the Harmon Foundation in 1967 and reminds us that individual achievement and commitment to social justice are at the heart of the American story.