Three Friends (Three Girls)
William Henry Johnson, American, 1901 - 1970
The Museum has a long tradition of acquiring works of art by African American artists, begun in 1899 with the purchase of a painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner (The Annuciation, Philadelphia Museum of Art, W1899-1-1). In 2000, as part of the Museum's 125th anniversary celebration, a need to strengthen the holdings of work by African American artists was identified as a pressing priority. Among the most welcome of recent acquisitions is Three Friends (Three Girls), part of a rare and spectacular group of three woodcuts and six screenprints by William Henry Johnson. Screenprinting, with the use of sharp-edged stencils and bright-hued, opaque inks, was ideal for translating Johnson's style, which was influenced by the colorful cartoons of his childhood, the folk art of Scandinavia and North Africa, and the African American traditions of his own country.