The Breakdown

  • William H. Johnson, The Breakdown, ca. 1940-1941, oil, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.589

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The Breakdown shows a scene familiar to Americans after years of drought and economic depression, but the title also refers to the moments of despair that punctuate African American blues music. A rattling jalopy piled with furniture strands a couple in search of a better life. A hood ornament – shaped like a cross and silhouetted against the rays of the sun – suggests the faith that sustains husband and wife through their troubles. But the two are not passively awaiting salvation. She improvises a roadside cookfire while he works to repair their car.

Title
The Breakdown
Artists
Date
ca. 1940-1941
On View
Dimensions
33 7/8 x 37 in. (86.0 x 93.9 cm.)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of the Harmon Foundation

Mediums
Classifications
Keywords
  • Figure(s) in exterior
  • Architecture – vehicle – automobile
  • Figure group
Object Number
1967.59.589
Palette
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI