Media - 1967.59.981 - SAAM-1967.59.981_1 - 81385
Copied William H. Johnson, Lamentation, ca. 1944, oil on fiberboard, 29 1833 14 in. (74.084.6 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.981

Artwork Details

ca. 1944
Not on view
29 1833 14 in. (74.084.6 cm.)
lower right in black oil: W.H. Johnson backing verso upper center in black crayon: REL-135 backing verso upper right in oil: DECENT FROM CROSS (sic)/W.H. Johnson frame verso upper right in black marker: CA- (obscured) frame verso upper left in blank ink: REL 135 frame verso center right in pencil: 12 1/4
Credit Line
Gift of the Harmon Foundation
Mediums Description
oil on fiberboard
Object Number

Artwork Description

William H. Johnson began painting religious scenes in the 1940s, after he lost his wife, Holcha, to cancer. Here, the light-skinned Christ with a neatly trimmed beard may symbolize the artist, still wounded from the loss of his companion. Three women in brightly printed cotton shifts raise their hands in stylized gestures that evoke African mourning rites, and the ladders, which appear in European scenes of the Crucifixion, also bring to mind African American spirituals like “Jacob’s Ladder.” In Lamentation, Johnson filtered his personal grief through centuries of European art, African traditions, and the public expression of faith in African American churches.