About This Artwork

Joshua Johnson
American, c. 1763–after 1825

Mrs. Andrew Bedford Bankson and Son, Gunning Bedford Bankson, 1803/5

Oil on canvas
81.3 x 71.1 cm (38 x 32 in.)

Restricted gifts of Robin and Tim Reynolds and Jill Burnside Zeno; Bulley and Andrews, Edna Graham, Love Galleries, Mrs. Eric Oldberg, Ratcliffe Foundation, and Quinn E. Delaney funds; Walter Aitken, Dr. Julian Archie, Mr. and Mrs. Perry Herst, Jay W. McGreevy, Mr. and Mrs. John W. Puth, Stone Foundation, and Mr. and Mrs. Frederick G. Wacker endowments; through prior acquisitions of the George F. Harding Collection and Ruth Helgeson, 1998.315

Joshua Johnson was the nation’s first professional African American painter of prominence. Listed in the 1816 Baltimore city directory as a “free householder of Colour,” he was born into slavery and freed by his owner (and father) shortly after 1782. Through his ties to abolitionists, Johnson attracted local patrons from the city’s artisan and middle-class families, such as the Banksons. The emphasis on fashion in this painting is characteristic of much of Johnson’s portraiture. When permitted, the artist preferred to bedeck his female sitters with jewelry. Mrs. Bankson’s hair is bound with a double circlet of light glass beads that accentuates her brown hair and gray eyes. The child’s clothes are equally elegant; he sports a high-waisted, white-muslin gown and holds a brightly colored strawberry, a delicacy that Johnson often included in his portraits.

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Baltimore, Maryland Historical Society, "Joshua Johnson: Freeman and Early American Portrait Painter," September 26, 1987-January 3, 1988; traveled to Williamsburg, Virginia, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, January 17-May 15, 1988; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, June 18-August 25, 1988; Stamford, Connecticut, Whitney Museum of American Art (branch), September 9-November 9, 1988, cat. 20.

Publication History

Andrea D. Barnwell and Kirsten P. Buick, “A Portfolio of Works by African American Artists Continuing the Dialogue: A Work in Progress,” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 24, 2 (1999), p. 185.

Andrew J. Walker, “Portfolio,” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 24, 2 (1999), p. 189, no. 1.

Margaret Rose Vendryes, “Race Identity/ Identifying Race: Robert S. Duncanson and Nineteenth-Century American Painting, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 27, 1 (2001), pp. 82-99, fig. 3.

Ownership History

The artist; to Mrs. Andrew Bedford Bankston; by descent to her sister-in-law, Elizabeth Grant Bankston; by descent in the family to Hugh Purviance King, Hewlett, Long Island, by 1930s; Mrs. Hugh C. Montgomery; by descent to private collection, Tennessee, by 1998 [Washburn Gallery, New York]; sold to the Art Institute, 1998.

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