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The Cover
October 22/29, 2003

Mrs Andrew Bedford Bankson and Son, Gunning Bedford Bankson

Author Affiliations

The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate, MD, Senior Contributing Editor.

JAMA. 2003;290(16):2099. doi:10.1001/jama.290.16.2099

He flourished in Baltimore from the latter part of the 18th century through at least the first quarter of the 19th. Like most of the painters of the time, he had some local training, but learned largely through trial and error. He specialized in portraits, in particular, family portraits. After his death, his name was largely forgotten as the unsigned and undated portraits passed from generation to generation of the sitters' descendants. He was often referred to as "the brass tacks painter," not so much because of the straightforward, no-nonsense style of the portraits (though they were certainly that), but for the meticulous rows of upholstery tacks on the settees and chairs on which his sitters posed. The spherical shapes of the tacks, each defined by its own light reflection, were then picked up by other objects in the painting, reinforcing one, enhancing another, but always suggesting a unity between sitters and possessions; more importantly, the brass tacks often led the viewer's eye down unexpected paths to new revelations. Thanks to the interest and researches of Baltimore physician J. Hall Pleasants (MD, Johns Hopkins, 1899) during the 1940s, we now know that the name of this artist is Joshua Johnson [Johnston, sometimes William Johnson] (c 1770-after 1825). Joshua Johnson is the United States' first African American professional fine arts painter.