At the age of seventeen, Johnson moved from South Carolina, his birthplace, to New York City, where he studied at the National Academy of Design. He then traveled to Europe and North Africa, during which time he largely painted expressionist landscapes. In 1938, with the threat of World War II looming, Johnson returned to the United States. He settled in Harlem, where he immersed himself in the community, which resulted in a pronounced shift in both the subject matter and style of his work. Johnson began depicting scenes of everyday African American life in Harlem and in the South, using flat compositions and vibrant colors, as can be seen in Children.
Gallery label from Studio Visit: Selected Gifts from Agnes Gund, 2018