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Retrospective by major African American artist William H. Johnson opens at UGA's Georgia Museum of Art
William H. Johnson (American, 1907–1970), Aunt Alice, ca. 1944. Oil on compressed board, 33 3/4 x 28 5/8 inches. Collection of Morgan State University.
ATHENS, GA.- A new exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service features rare paintings by William H. Johnson from the collection of the James E. Lewis Museum at Morgan State University, at the Georgia Museum of Art from Feb. 16 to May 12, 2013.

An essential figure in modern American art, William H. Johnson (1901–1970) was a virtuoso skilled in various media and techniques and produced thousands of works over a career that spanned decades, continents and genres.

The exhibition made its debut at the Gari Melchers Home and Studio in Fredericksburg, Va., and will continue on a 10-city tour through 2014.

The pivotal stages of Johnson’s career as a modernist painter are assembled in this group of rarely seen paintings. Every step of his artistic development is conveyed—from his post-impressionist and expressionist works of the 1920s, to vibrant vernacular paintings from the end of his career in the 1940s, in which Johnson articulated his distinctive, unforgettable vision as an American modern artist.

The paintings boast a remarkable history. In 1956 the Harmon Foundation, a nonprofit that helped foster awareness of African art from 1922 until its demise in 1967, took ownership of Johnson’s own collection of art—saving it all from being destroyed. When the foundation had to shut its doors, it donated more than 1,000 works to the Smithsonian’s National Collections of Fine Arts (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum). The terms of the agreement called for the Smithsonian to donate works to several black colleges and universities, including Morgan State University. The founding chair of Morgan’s art department, James E. Lewis, was first to select these works for his museum’s permanent collection.



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