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The tradition of Smithsonian museums loaning art to the White House began in the 1940s. (iStockphoto)

Decorating the White House with Smithsonian Art

Continuing a Washington tradition, the Obamas selected artwork from the Smithsonian collections to hang in their historic home

Flower-to-Teacher-Obama-art-6

Flower to Teacher
(Maura McCarthy)

William H. Johnson
c. 1944
Oil on paperboard
Smithsonian American Art Museum

On a visit to his hometown in 1944, Johnson painted portraits of local African-American families. The subjects aren’t identified, and the reason Johnson chose to paint them is unknown. Broun sees the pair as a mother and daughter and notes the different skin tones. “Johnson was very sensitive to different colors,” she says. “He will often portray a group of African-Americans in the same group with different skin tones.”

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