William H. Johnson (1901-1970) was born into a poor family in South Carolina. He moved to New York at age 17 and worked his way through the National Academy of Design. He spent the late 1920s and most of the 1930s in Europe, absorbing the lessons of modernism and developing an interest in primitivism and folk art. He returned to the United States in 1938, concentrating on painting scenes of African American tradition with eloquent simplicity. More than one thousand paintings by Johnson are part of the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
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