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)


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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