Born in 1901, William H. Johnson was a talented artist who became famous for his Scandinavian landscape paintings and "primitive" scenes of black life.
A South Carolina native and son of an African-American/Sioux woman and a white man, Johnson moved to New York in 1918 to study at the National Academy of Design. In 1926, he was passed over for a traveling scholarship because of his race. Considered one of the school's most talented students, a teacher gave him $1000 to travel abroad.
Johnson returned to the U.S. in 1938 with his wife. When she died in 1944 of cancer, he returned to Europe only to return to New York three years later because of his own failing health. Johnson died in 1970 after being hospitalized for the last 20+ years of his life.
Today Johnson’s work is represented in many important collections, including National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; The Columbia Museum of Art, South Carolina; Library of Congress, Washington, DC; and Kerteminde Museum/Johannes Larsen Museet, Denmark.