During the 1860s Johnson painted Black men, women, and children that bestow on them dignity, intelligence, and grace. Many in his family, including his sister Harriet May and her husband Reverend Joseph May were ardent abolitionists. To Johnson, Blacks were not subjects to be ridiculed or satirized.
Note that paintings of Black women and their babies have been placed within the Mother and Child theme. Negro Life at the South and its variations have been placed in a separate category because of its historic significance as Johnson’s chef-d’oeuvre. —PH