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)


Booker T Washington Legend
(Maura McCarthy)

William H. Johnson
c. 1944-45
Oil on plywood
Smithsonian American Art Museum

This painting depicts Booker T. Washington (1856-1915)—who despite being born a slave went on to become a prominent African-American leader—teaching a group of students. “Johnson had a very strong political conscious,” Broun says. “He did a series called Fighters for Freedom where he painted those who had stood up for racial oppression.” This painting features a shovel, wheels, a plow, books and writing implements, tools that Washington said were vital to advancing African-Americans after Emancipation.


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