II

Narratives of African American Art and Identity

William H. Johnson

Seated Woman, c. 1939

Hand-colored linocut on paper

18" x 12"


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Seated Woman

Constantly looking for new and challenging opportunities, William H. Johnson left his native North Carolina to study fine art in New York City and later throughout Europe. Fascinated by German Expressionism and the works of Chaim Soutine, Johnson traveled to Europe to study Modernism. Upon his return to America, he relinquished his experiments in Expressionism to pursue a "primitive" style, which he felt was a more suitable vehicle for the expression of African American experiences.

Seated Woman is an early work that combines Expressionism with the beginnings of his burgeoning new simplified style. Thick incised lines define an anonymous portrait of a seated African American female figure. The somber expression and color tones are Expressionist remnants that Johnson would soon leave behind for a caricatured treatment of the figure and a vibrant palette. This is a departure from his earlier work not only in style but in its uniqueness of subject matter: a solitary modern urban woman, wearing a contemporary dress and matching high-heeled shoes.   K. A. K.

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