Moon over Harlem

Media - 1967.59.577 - SAAM-1967.59.577_1 - 81302
Copied William H. Johnson, Moon over Harlem, ca. 1943-1944, oil on plywood, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.577

Artwork Details

Moon over Harlem
ca. 1943-1944
Not on view
28 1235 34 in. (72.590.8 cm.)
Credit Line
Gift of the Harmon Foundation
Mediums Description
oil on plywood
  • Cityscape — New York — Harlem
  • State of being — evil — violence
  • Occupation — service — policeman
  • Figure group
  • Figure(s) in exterior
Object Number

Artwork Description

Moon over Harlem commemorates the riots of 1943, when a confrontation between a white police officer, a black woman, and a black soldier resulted in a melee of fighting and burning that left several killed and hundreds wounded. William H. Johnson based the pairs of figures at the left and right margins on photographs of rioters arrested by white officers. But Johnson painted the police as black men, and the ground is strewn with empty liquor bottles, as if the artist wanted to suggest that the people of Harlem were brutalizing themselves through their own behavior.