Joshua Johnson (American, ca. 1763–ca. 1824)
Oil on canvas
36 x 32 in. (91.4 x 81.3 cm)
Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch, 1965 (65.254.3)
Edward Pennington Rutter (ca. 17981827) and Sarah Ann Rutter (18021843) were the children of Captain Joshua Rutter (17751861) of Baltimore, Maryland, and Mary Pennington (17781850), who were married in 1796. Edward later became a ship captain, dying at age twenty-nine while serving as master of the brig Margaret in Havana. Sarah married John Taylor of Baltimore in 1820 and John C. Hennick on May 7, 1825. The artist was the earliest known African-American painter active in the United States. He is listed in the Baltimore city directories between 1796 and 1824 as either "limner" or "portrait artist." A few paintings by him have been datable to as early as 1789. Long thought to have been a slave who belonged to the Polk and Peale families of Baltimore, Johnson was in fact not a Peale protégé, but an independent artist, the free son of a white man and a black slave. Here Johnson demonstrates his affinity for bright, strong colors and precise detail. The work retains its original gilt frame.