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

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

Folk-Family-Obama-art-5

Folk Family
(Maura McCarthy)

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

“Family is a subject he did so often,” Broun says. “They are all more or less related to his own family.” In this painting, each member has a unique skin tone as well, Broun observes. “He uses it as a way to portray racial identity and commitment,” she adds. Johnson altered his image of himself through the years. By the end of his career he was doing self-portraits in which appeared very dark, whereas early on he was lighter skinned as he was in photographs, she says.

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