Idyll of Virginia Mountains (Primary Title)

George H. Ben Johnson, American, 1888 - 1970 (Artist)

1945
American
oil on canvas
United States
Unframed: 16 3/16 × 20 in. (41.12 × 50.8 cm)
Framed: 22 1/2 × 26 1/2 in. (57.15 × 67.31 cm)
45.10.3

Johnson, who earned his living in Richmond, Virginia, as a mail carrier, taught himself to draw and paint. In the 1910s, he penned dozens of editorial cartoons for the city’s leading black newspaper, many denouncing the inequities of Jim Crow segregation. As a painter, Johnson focused primarily on biblical and historical subjects, but he also produced still lifes and landscapes – Idyll of Virginia Mountains being one of his most lyrical. Here he locates the viewer high up on a craggy promontory of the state’s famed Blue Ridge range, defined in painterly strokes of turquoise, violet gray, and brown. In places, touches of peach pigment suggest the glancing rays of the setting sun.

During the anxious war years of 1944 and 1945, VMFA quietly crossed racial barriers by acquiring its first artwork by African Americans. Jacob Lawrence’s Subway-Home from Work and Leslie Bolling’s Cousin-on-Friday were received as gifts (the latter on view nearby), while this light-filled canvas was purchased from the museum’s annual Virginia artist’s exhibition.

Signed bottom right: "Geo. H. Ben / Johnson"
Katherine Rhoads Memorial Fund
"30 Years of Virginia Art," College of William & Mary, 11 February - 28 February, 1967.

The Tenth Exhibition of the Work of Virginia Artists, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Va., April 8 – 29, 1945
O’Leary, Elizabeth L., Sylvia Yount, Susan Jensen Rawles, and David Park Curry. American Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Charlottesville: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts with the University of Virginia Press, 2010. (No. 131, p. 387-393).

Hall, Larry. "Black Artist Quietly Left a Strong Impression," Richmond Times-Dispatch (August 11, 2004): H-7.

"Former Postman's Canvas Selected for Purchase Prize at Virginia Artist Exhibition," Richmond Times-Dispatch (April 8, 1945): II-1, 4.

"Maston's 'Judy' Purchased by State Museum," Norfolk Virginian-Pilot (April 8, 1945).

"Tenth Exhibtion of the Works of Virginia Artists," Museum Bulleting 8 (April 1945): p. 1.

The Tenth Exhibition of the Work of Virginia Artists. Richmond, Va.: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 1945. Exhibition catalog. (No. 27, p. 5, 7, 11, 17).
©artist or artist’s estate

Some object records are not complete and do not reflect VMFA's full and current knowledge. VMFA makes routine updates as records are reviewed and enhanced.