Joshua Johnson was one of the first African Americans to become a professional artist in America. Born into slavery around 1763, as the son of a white man and a black woman who was the slave of another man, Johnson was purchased by his father from his mother’s owner when he was about a year old. He later apprenticed to a Balmore blacksmith, and was freed in 1782. Apparently self-taught, Johnson was listed as a portrait painter or liner from 1796 to 1824 in Balitimore city directories. Some eighty portraits are now attributed to him.
Historical Maryland documents suggest that Johnson served as a slave in the Peale-Pole household for a period of time, before becoming a Free Man of Colour. In fact, it is likely that Charles Peale Pole taught Johnson basic painting skills.
The Westwood Children depicts the young sons of John and Margaret Lor man Westwood. A successful stagecoach manufacturer in Balitimore’s early Federal society, Westwood was able to commission this portrait from Joshua Johnson, one of the leading painters in town, at the very height of his career. The Westwood Children is a stylized painting which depicts the three children holding flowers in their hands, accompanied by the family dog which holds a bird in its mouth. The hidden have chilled expressionless stares, although the youngest child seems to be on the verge of smiling. Johnson was not entirely successful in creating a compositional balance between the children, positioned at the left, and their black dog and an alcove on the right.
mhtml:file://C:/Users/Nelson/Pictures/mum/Joshua Johnson.mht 13/01/2008