Street Life, Harlem

Media - 1967.59.674 - SAAM-1967.59.674_2 - 123039
Copied William H. Johnson, Street Life, Harlem, ca. 1939-1940, oil on plywood, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.674

Artwork Details

Title
Street Life, Harlem
Date
ca. 1939-1940
Location
Not on view
Dimensions
45 5838 58 in. (116.098.0 cm)
Credit Line
Gift of the Harmon Foundation
Mediums
Mediums Description
oil on plywood
Classifications
Keywords
  • Cityscape — street
  • African-American
  • Cityscape — New York — Harlem
  • Cityscape — celestial — moon
  • Architecture Exterior — commercial
  • Figure group
  • African American
  • Cityscape — New York — New York
Object Number
1967.59.674

Artwork Description

The New York Amsterdam News reported in 1939 on the crowds gathering at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. The reporter described the "cock-eyed hats, perched at crazy angles on . . . shiny hair" and skirts "a tantalizing fraction of an inch below their knees" (Powell, Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson, 1991). In Street Life, Harlem, William H. Johnson portrayed an elegant couple dressed "to the nines" for an evening on the town. Style, as much as skin color, was a mark of pride among many African Americans who had come of age during the Harlem Renaissance, but the flamboyant appearance of zoot-suiters inflamed racial tensions long after swing music and the jitterbug had been absorbed into American popular culture.

Luce Object Quote
"I am feeling . . . that I would like my own homeland next, as I know of no better country to inspire me . . ." Letter from the artist, 1938, in Powell, Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson, 1991