Edward and Sarah Rutter

Artist: Joshua Johnson (American, ca. 1763–ca. 1824)

Date: ca. 1805

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 36 x 32 in. (91.4 x 81.3 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch, 1965

Accession Number: 65.254.3


Johnson, the son of an enslaved woman and a white man, was the first known African American artist in the United States to earn his living as a professional portrait painter. He worked in Baltimore, Maryland, from about 1789 to 1825, painting likenesses of sea captains, shopkeepers, and merchants and their families. In this portrait of Edward Pennington Rutter (ca. 1798–1827) and Sarah Ann Rutter (1802–1843), children of Captain Joshua and Mary Pennington Rutter of Baltimore, Johnson demonstrated his affinity for bright, strong colors and precise detail, as seen in the red bird at the left and the strawberries held by the children. There is an air of stillness, of suspended action, in Johnson’s portraits that is emphasized here by the intensity of the children’s gazes.