Street Life, Harlem

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

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.

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
Street Life, Harlem
ca. 1939-1940
Not on view
45 5838 58 in. (116.098.0 cm)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of the Harmon Foundation

Mediums Description
oil on plywood
  • 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
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

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