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Trembling Vistas, Primal Youth: William H. Johnson’s Painterly Expressionism



Taking selected cues from modern painting, the African American artist William Henry Johnson (1901-1970) introduced a radical and, arguably, a unique perspective onto avant-garde portraiture and landscapes: views of peoples and places informed by an emotionally charged, gesture-imposed vantage point. Whether the rendering was of a small town in the American South, the French Riviera, a Scandinavian city, or the inhabitants of the aforesaid locations, Johnson imposed upon these subjects an agitated yet knowing brushstroke, saturated with colorful pigments, and infused with the strategically crafted personae of a self-proclaimed primitive, mixed-race cosmopolitan, and visionary.

*This program includes access to special exhibition Nordic Utopia? African Americans in the 20th Century.


  • Richard_J_Powell

    Richard J. Powell

    Richard J. Powell is the John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art & Art History at Duke University. Along with teaching courses in American art, the arts of the African Diaspora, and contemporary visual studies, he has written on a range of topics, including such titles as Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson (1991), Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture (2008), Going There: Black Visual Satire (2020), and Black Art: A Cultural History (1997, 2002, and 2021).