I Baptize Thee

  • William H. Johnson, I Baptize Thee, ca. 1940, oil on burlap, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.977

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In the background of this painting, Sunday suits and best dresses evoke a Baptist congregation in a rural community. Nearer the viewer, however, the strong profiles, closed eyes, and exaggerated hands and feet recall African art and older rituals of faith. The preacher and congregants stand in a creek or a pond to symbolize crossing the River Jordan into a new life. This symbolism applied as well to the dramatic change in William H. Johnson’s career when he returned to America in 1938. He abandoned his European painting styles and subjects and vowed to paint the authentic spirit of “his own people.”

I Baptize Thee
ca. 1940
On View
38 1/8 x 45 1/2 in. (96.9 x 115.6 cm)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of the Harmon Foundation

Mediums Description
oil on burlap
  • Figure group
  • Ethnic – African-American
  • Ceremony – religion – baptism
Object Number
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

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