Lamentation

Media - 1967.59.981 - SAAM-1967.59.981_1 - 81385
Copied William H. Johnson, Lamentation, ca. 1944, oil on fiberboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.981

Artwork Details

Title
Lamentation
Date
ca. 1944
Location
Not on view
Dimensions
29 1833 14 in. (74.084.6 cm.)
Credit Line
Gift of the Harmon Foundation
Mediums
Mediums Description
oil on fiberboard
Classifications
Keywords
  • Religion — New Testament — Crucifixion
  • African-American
  • Religion — New Testament — Christ
  • Object — tool — ladder
  • Recreation — church — prayer
  • Emblem — cross
  • African American
Object Number
1967.59.981

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.