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Fighters for Freedom: William H. Johnson Picturing Justice

January 21, 2022 - August 7, 2022

Gallery 8

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One of the most brilliant careers of an early twentieth-century American artist was that of William H. Johnson. Originally from Florence, South Carolina, Johnson became a world traveler who absorbed the customs and cultures of New York, Europe, and North Africa. He completed hundreds of oils, watercolors, gouaches, pen-and-ink sketches, block prints, silk screens, and ceramics. Johnson's career also spanned a gamut of styles from the academic, through Impressionism, Cubism, Fauvism, German Expressionism, to a conscious vernacular style marked by vivid colors and flat perspectives influenced by his travels abroad. Around 1945, Johnson began a series of paintings known as Fighters for Freedom as a tribute to African American activists, scientists, teachers, and performers as well as international heads of state working to bring peace to the world. The series celebrated their accomplishments and in it he depicted figures such as Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Marian Anderson, and Mahatma Gandhi.

Fighters for Freedom: William H. Johnson Picturing Justice is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. with generous support from Art Bridges, Faye and Robert Davidson, and the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation. The C. F. Foundation in Atlanta supports the museum’s traveling exhibition program Treasures to Go.

Presentation of this exhibition at the Gibbes is made possible with generous support from the Carolyn and Wayne Jones Charitable Trust; Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina; Jane Smith Turner Foundation; and The Gibbes Women's Council.

<i>Marian Anderson</i>, ca. 1945, by William H. Johnson (American, 1901-1972). Oil on paperboard, 35 5/8 x 28 7/8 inches. Image courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Marian Anderson, ca. 1945, by William H. Johnson (American, 1901-1972). Oil on paperboard, 35 5/8 x 28 7/8 inches. Image courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum.

<i>Nehru and Gandhi</i>, ca. 1945, by William H. Johnson (American, 1901-1972). Oil on paperboard, 33 7/8 x 27 7/8 inches. Image courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Nehru and Gandhi, ca. 1945, by William H. Johnson (American, 1901-1972). Oil on paperboard, 33 7/8 x 27 7/8 inches. Image courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum.

<i>Harriet Tubman</i>, ca. 1945, by William H. Johnson (American, 1901-1972). Oil on paperboard, 28 7/8 x 23 3/8 inches. Image courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Harriet Tubman, ca. 1945, by William H. Johnson (American, 1901-1972). Oil on paperboard, 28 7/8 x 23 3/8 inches. Image courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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