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Identification and Creation

Object Number
William Henry Johnson, American (Florence, South Carolina 1901 - 1970 Long Island, New York)
The Blind Singer
Work Type
c 1945
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Screen print on wove paper
Screen print
45.1 x 29.8 cm (17 3/4 x 11 3/4 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: back of sheet in pencil: Blind Singer, FO-156 (II) William H. Johnson

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Margaret Fisher Fund and gift of Monroe E. Price and Aimée Brown Price
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art

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The screenprint, Blind Singer, is the first work by William Henry Johnson to enter the collection of the Harvard Art Museum. After studying at the National Academy of Design in New York under Charles Hawthorne in the 1920s, Johnson traveled to France where he began working in a less academic style. After a brief return to New York where he experienced intense racism, he returned to Europe in 1930 and began his travels through northern Europe-Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. He remained in Scandinavia until 1938 when political unrest prompted another return to New York. Exposure to the Expressionism of such northern European artists as Nolde and Munch had a lasting influence on his work. Upon his return to the US, Johnson took a WPA job teaching at the Harlem Community Art Center, where he was introduced to the technique of screen printing. (The FAP/WPA transformed screenprinting from a commercial practice to a fine art technique when it set up a workshop dedicated to the medium in New York City in 1938.) Johnson's previous print work had all been woodcut, a favored technique of the Expressionists. His arrival in Harlem also initiated an interest in subjects related to African-American life in the US-agrarian southern life, black American heroes, battalions of black soldiers, religious imagery, and northern urban black life, especially centered on the Harlem Renaissance. Screenprinting provided him with a visual language to represent these subjects with renewed vitality. The flat areas of bold color that comprise the stylized figures and objects are distinctly modernist in appearance and subject.

Publication History

  • David Bindman, Suzanne Blier, and Vera Grant, ed., Art of Jazz: Form, Performance, Notes, exh. cat., Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African and African American Art (Cambridge, MA, 2017), p. 44, ill. (color)

Exhibition History

Verification Level

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