Artworks by African Americans from the Collection

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The Smithsonian American Art Museum is home to an extraordinary collection of artworks by African Americans with more than 2,000 objects by more than 200 artists.

In celebration of the 2016 Grand Opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, SAAM will display 184 of its most important artworks by African Americans, adding 48 objects to the 136 currently on view in the galleries throughout the museum’s building and Luce Foundation Center.

From William H. Johnson’s vibrant portrayals of faith and family to Mickalene Thomas’s contemporary exploration of black female identity, SAAM’s holdings reflect its long-standing commitment to black artists and the acquisition, preservation, and display of their works.


The featured artworks cover centuries of creative expression, powerfully evoking themes both universal and specific to the African American experience. They include painting, sculpture, and textiles, and represent numerous artistic styles, ranging from realism to neoclassicism, abstract expressionism and modernism. Many mirror the tremendous social and political change occurring during the Jazz Age and Harlem Renaissance, the post-war years and the civil rights movement into present day.

A number of works, including James Hampton’s iconic The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly (1950–64), are included in the museum’s folk and self-taught art galleries, which reopened to the public October 21, 2016 following a major reinstallation.

Visitor favorites by Loïs Mailou Jones and Jacob Lawrence; abstractions by Washington’s own Sam Gilliam, Felrath Hines and Alma Thomas; contemporary works by Mark Bradford, Faith Ringgold and Mickalene Thomas; key pieces by self-taught artists such as Clementine Hunter and Purvis Young; and influential works by Benny Andrews, John Biggers, Edmonia Lewis and Augusta Savage are included in the installation. A selection from the museum’s in-depth collections of works by William H. Johnson and Henry Ossawa Tanner are displayed throughout the galleries and in the Luce Foundation Center.

Visiting Information

August 31, 2016 February 28, 2017
Open Daily, 11:30 a.m.–7:00 p.m
Free Admission


Online Gallery

Mark Bradford, Amendment #8, 2014, mixed media, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Lohrfink Foundation and museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2015.34, © 2014, Mark Bradford
Amendment #8
mixed media
On view
Selma Burke, Untitled (Woman and Child), ca. 1950, painted red oak, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of John A. Sakal and Terry L. Bengel in honor of Dr. Paul Albert Chew, Founding Director of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, Pennsylvania, 2004.20
Untitled (Woman and Child)
Dateca. 1950
painted red oak
Not on view
Robert S. Duncanson, Vesuvius and Pompeii, 1870, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Joseph Agostinelli, 1983.95.177
Vesuvius and Pompeii
oil on canvas
On view
Sam Gilliam, Swing, 1969, acrylic and aluminum on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mr. Edwin Janss, Jr., 1973.189
acrylic and aluminum on canvas
On view
Sargent Johnson, Mask, ca. 1930-1935, copper on wood base, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of International Business Machines Corporation, 1966.27.4
Dateca. 1930-1935
copper on wood base
Not on view
Clementine Hunter, Melrose Quilt, ca. 1960, fabric, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Barbara Coffey Quilt Endowment, 2014.5
Melrose Quilt
Dateca. 1960
Not on view
William H. Johnson, Café, ca. 1939-1940, oil on paperboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.669
Dateca. 1939-1940
oil on paperboard
On view
William H. Johnson, Going to Church, ca. 1940-1941, oil on burlap, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.1003
Going to Church
Dateca. 1940-1941
oil on burlap
On view
Loïs Mailou Jones, Les Fétiches, 1938, oil on linen, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by Mrs. Norvin H. Green, Dr. R. Harlan, and Francis Musgrave, 1990.56
Les Fétiches
oil on linen
On view
Jacob Lawrence, The Library, 1960, tempera on fiberboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., 1969.47.24
The Library
tempera on fiberboard
On view
Augusta Savage, Gamin, ca. 1929, painted plaster, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Benjamin and Olya Margolin, 1988.57
Dateca. 1929
painted plaster
On view
Edmonia Lewis, The Death of Cleopatra, carved 1876, marble, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Historical Society of Forest Park, Illinois, 1994.17
The Death of Cleopatra
Datecarved 1876
On view
Henry Ossawa Tanner, Abraham's Oak, 1905, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Norman Robbins, 1983.95.185
Abraham’s Oak
oil on canvas
On view
Mickalene Thomas, Portrait of Mnonja, 2010, rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel on wood panel, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2011.16, © 2010, Mickalene Thomas
Portrait of Mnonja
rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel on wood panel
On view
Alma Thomas, Antares, 1972, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of the artist, 1980.36.13
acrylic on canvas
On view


Benny Andrews
born Madison, GA 1930-died New York City 2006
Mark Bradford
born Los Angeles, CA 1961
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Sam Gilliam
born Tupelo, MS 1933-died Washington, DC 2022

Gilliam is an innovative color field painter who has advanced the inventions associated with the Washington Color School.

James Hampton
born Elloree, SC 1909-died Washington, DC 1964

Little is known about James Hampton, despite the grandeur of his self-chosen title, "Director, Special Projects for the State of Eternity." He was born in 1909 in Elloree, South Carolina, a small community of predominantly African-American sharecropper

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Felrath Hines
born Indianapolis, IN 1913-died Silver Spring, MD 1993

Painter. Hines studied design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y., and his paintings—in the tradition of the De Stijl movement—often contain strong design elements.

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Clementine Hunter
born near Cloutierville, LA 1886/7-died near Natchitoches, LA 1988
On a Louisiana plantation built on the labor of enslaved workers and reinvented, in the twentieth century, as an artists’ and writers’ retreat, Clementine Hunter painted everyday scenes she felt historians overlooked.
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William H. Johnson
born Florence, SC 1901-died Central Islip, NY 1970

By almost any standard, William H. Johnson (1901–1970) can be considered a major American artist. He produced hundreds of works in a virtuosic, eclectic career that spanned several decades as well as several continents.

Loïs Mailou Jones
born Boston, MA 1905-died Washington, DC 1998

Now in her eighth decade as an artist, Lois Mailou Jones has treated an extraordinary range of subjects—from French, Haitian, and New England landscapes to the sources and issues of African-American culture.

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Jacob Lawrence
born Atlantic City, NJ 1917-died Seattle, WA 2000

Painter. A social realist, Lawrence documented the African American experience in several series devoted to Toussaint L'Ouverture, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, life in Harlem, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

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Edmonia Lewis
born Greenbush (now Rensselaer), NY 1844-died London, England 1907
Edmonia Lewis was the first sculptor of African American and Native American (Mississauga) descent to achieve international recognition. Her father was Black, and her mother was Chippewa (Ojibwa) Indian.
Faith Ringgold
born New York City 1930-died Englewood, NJ 2024
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Augusta Savage
born Green Cove Springs, FL 1892-died New York City 1962

"I have created nothing really beautiful, really lasting, but if I can inspire one of these youngsters to develop the talent I know they possess, then my monument will be in their work."—T. R.

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Henry Ossawa Tanner
born Pittsburgh, PA 1859-died Paris, France 1937

Working in France after 1891, Henry Ossawa Tanner achieved an international reputation largely through his religious paintings.

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Alma Thomas
born Columbus, GA 1891-died Washington, DC 1978
Alma Thomas was a teacher and artist who developed a powerful form of abstract painting late in life. From the mid-1960s, she produced brilliantly colored and richly patterned works intimately connected to the natural world.
Mickalene Thomas
born Camden, NJ 1971
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Purvis Young
born Miami, FL 1943-died Miami, FL 2010

Purvis Young paints on scrap lumber and plywood that he scavenges from the streets and vacant lots of Overton, the historically black neighborhood where he lives in Miami, Florida, and whose long deterioration he has witnessed.