About this artwork
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.
- Joshua Johnson
- Mrs. Andrew Bedford Bankson and Son, Gunning Bedford Bankson
- United States
- Oil on canvas
- 81.3 × 71.1 cm (38 × 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 Jr. endowment funds; through prior acquisitions of the George F. Harding Collection and Ruth Helgeson