Status: Needs Review


of birth is unsettled [strikethrough: nor] and so is the matter [strikethrough: clear as] pertaining to whom he actually belonged [strikethrough: as a] while he was a slave. His work
was sought after by many Eastern Shore merchants who wanted family portraits
painted. But Johnston's development as a skilled limner was not an ordinary
occurrence for a slave artist. His sensitive interpretation of his subjects
gives one to believe that he may have been trained by the better academicians
of the day. Little is still know of how he acquired the skills he exercised
when painting portraits of wealthy subjects such as The McCormick Family ^ [Figute no. -] and
Young Lady On A Red Sofa. See plate number ______.

His work bears a close resemblance in ^ [its] design and stylistic format to that
of James and Charles Willson Peale. One writer infers that the Peale brothers
were Johnston's teachers. Dr. J. Hall Pleasants, whose painstaking studies
of the work of Joshua Johnston in the decade of the 30's ^ [first brought the Artist to public attention] wrote of Johnston:

"A nebulous figure, a Negro painter of considerable ability
with a style peculiarly his own, was a limner of portraits
in Baltimore during the last decade of the eighteenth century
and the first quarter of the nineteenth. As far as can be
learned about Joshua Johnston, or Johnson, was the first individual
in the United States with Negro blood to win for himself a
place as a portrait painter.

There is a persistent tradition passed down in the families of
several subjects painted by Johnston that the painter was a
slave owned by a forebear. But these traditions are curiously
conflicting, for each of the present, or recent, possessors of
Baltimorean, contemporary but unrelated one to the other. That
Johnston passed from one owner to the other in such a summary
fashion seems incredible.

As a matter of fact, from the time he appears as a portrait
painter in the Baltimore directory for 1796, down to his last
appearance in the directory for 1824, Johnston was not a slave
at all, for slaves were not listed in directories. Moreover,
in at least two listings his is specifically styled as a freeman." 13

13 Pleasants, J. Hall, "An Exhibition of Portraits by Joshua Johnston",
The Peale Museum, Baltimore, Maryland, January 11-February 8, 1948.

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