African American Artists before the Twentieth Century
Joshua Johnson, Portrait of Isabella Taylor (c. 1805). Courtesy of The Newark Museum / Art Resource, NY
Most of Johnson's subjects were white. His early portraits are generally of upper-class subjects like Isabella Taylor, who sat for Johnson around 1805. Johnson here creates depth by seating his subject at a table or desk, her chair pushed slightly away and back, one arm resting on the table and holding a note, the other following the line of her seated body. Adding to the effect are the geometric overlappings of the folded note in her hand and the texture of her dress, especially the sleeves. Johnson's later paintings are generally of middle- and working-class subjects, and though more than eighty of his signed works survive, only two are of black persons; the portraits are thought to be of Daniel and Abner Coker, prominent clerics in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.