Off to War

Media - 1967.59.605 - SAAM-1967.59.605_1 - 81330
Copied William H. Johnson, Off to War, ca. 1942-1944, oil on plywood, 25 1832 58 in. (63.983.0 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.605

Artwork Details

Off to War
ca. 1942-1944
Not on view
25 1832 58 in. (63.983.0 cm)
lower left in oil: W.H. Johnson back upper right in red ink: 1967.59.605 back upper center in black grease crayon: W.H. JOHNSON back right center in black grease crayon: OFF TO WAR (written sideways) back right center in black ink: #605 NCFA cat back lower right in black grease crayon: B 13
Credit Line
Gift of the Harmon Foundation
Mediums Description
oil on plywood
  • Group
  • Figure group — family
  • African American
  • Occupation — military — soldier
  • Object — other — flag
  • Architecture Exterior — domestic — farmhouse
Object Number

Artwork Description

In 1942, on National Negro Achievement Day, William H. Johnson received a certificate of honor for his “distinguished service to America in Art.” The award recognized his scenes of black soldiers, which Johnson began painting after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Off to War shows a young man leaving his family in the rural South. Just up the road, a figure on a bus sticks his head out to urge him on. The family forms a pattern of red, white and blue that contrasts with the menacing, bile-colored horizon. Three telephone poles like the crosses on Calvary march into the distance, conveying a blessing on the young soldier or suggesting perhaps the sacrifice that he might have to make.