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Street Life, Harlem

ca. 1939-1940 William H. Johnson Born: Florence, South Carolina 1901 Died: Central Islip, New York 1970 oil on plywood 45 5/8 x 38 5/8 in. (116.0 x 98.0 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of the Harmon Foundation 1967.59.674 Smithsonian American Art Museum
Luce Foundation Center, 4th Floor, 31B


Luce Center Quote

"I am feeling . . . that I would like my own homeland next, as I know of no better country to inspire me . . ." Letter from the artist, 1938, in Powell, Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson, 1991

Luce Center Label

The New York Amsterdam News reported in 1939 on the crowds gathering at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. The reporter described the "cock-eyed hats, perched at crazy angles on . . . shiny hair" and skirts "a tantalizing fraction of an inch below their knees" (Powell, Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson, 1991). In Street Life, Harlem, William H. Johnson portrayed an elegant couple dressed "to the nines" for an evening on the town. Style, as much as skin color, was a mark of pride among many African Americans who had come of age during the Harlem Renaissance, but the flamboyant appearance of zoot-suiters inflamed racial tensions long after swing music and the jitterbug had been absorbed into American popular culture.

Keywords

Architecture Exterior - commercial

Cityscape - celestial - moon

Cityscape - New York - Harlem

Cityscape - New York New York

Cityscape - street

Ethnic - African-American

Figure group

painting

paint - oil

wood - plywood

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