Historical Scene – WW II

Media - 1967.59.659 - SAAM-1967.59.659_2 - 142412
Copied William H. Johnson, Historical Scene--WW II, ca. 1945, oil on paperboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.659

Artwork Details

Historical Scene – WW II
ca. 1945
Not on view
32 1224 34 in. (82.762.9 cm)
Credit Line
Gift of the Harmon Foundation
Mediums Description
oil on paperboard
  • Portrait male — Churchill, Winston — full length
  • Dress — uniform — military uniform
  • Architecture — vehicle — airplane
  • Portrait male — Roosevelt, Franklin Delano — full length
  • History — United States — World War II
  • Portrait male — Chiang Kai-shek — full length
Object Number

Artwork Description

In Historical Scene--World War II Johnson articulated the threat that prompted the Cairo Conference in November 1943. Japan and China had been at war for almost a decade, and Japan was poised to invade the Chinese mainland. For Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, the threat was real and imminent. Standing tall, he surveys a landscape filled with machines of war. At the lower right, he sits with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Madame Chiang Kai-shek, who served as interpreter, after Roosevelt committed to providing Allied support for China and battling Japan's rapid advances in Asia. 

Johnson made multiple sketches of these world leaders individually and as a group, working from photographs that appeared in the press. Flags above their heads indicate their nationalities, although each is a clearly recognizable portrait.  


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.