Media - 1967.59.748 - SAAM-1967.59.748_1 - 81367
Copied William H. Johnson, Jim, 1930, oil on canvas, mounted on masonite, 21 5818 14 in. (54.846.3 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.748

Artwork Details

21 5818 14 in. (54.846.3 cm)
Credit Line
Gift of the Harmon Foundation
Mediums Description
oil on canvas, mounted on masonite
  • Portrait male — Johnson, Jim — bust
  • African American
Object Number

Artwork Description

William H. Johnson returned home to South Carolina in 1930 after twelve years away. In this portrait of his sixteen-year-old brother, Jim, it is tempting to see an image of “Willie” when he was Jim’s age and setting off on his own. The background, almost equally divided between dark and light pigments, evokes Johnson’s position between two different worlds. He had been teased as a mixed-race child because of his relatively fair skin and wavy hair. When he left Florence, South Carolina, in 1918, he had followed the path of white American artists, training in New York City and traveling to Europe. But the praise he won shortly before he returned to his hometown called attention to his black ancestry once again, transforming Johnson into a symbol of the “New Negro” (Powell, Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson, 1991).