Painted terra cotta, circa 1928. Approximately 210x159x133 mm; 8 1/4x6 1/4x5 1/4 inches. Incised signature, in the interior, above the base edge.
Provenance: private collection, Pennsylvania.
This charming portrait in terra cotta is a significant and very scarce example of Sargent Johnson's early modernist sculpture. Sargent Johnson made a small number of similar stylized heads, portraits of young children, in the late 1920s and early 1930s but only a few surviving works are known today. This work is closely related to the very similar Sammy, illustrated on the cover of the catalogue for the 1928 Harmon Foundation exhibition Exhibit of Fine Art, Productions of American Negro Artists. Sammy is described as "black porcelain" and appears to have a glaze - it won the Foundation's Otto H. Kahn prize of $250. Johnson exhibited six of his artworks in this exhibition, the first of the Harmon Foundation's exhibitions of African-American art.
Johnson's heads have stylized forms, seen here in the modelling of the facial features, the brow of the hair and shape of the head --qualities that exemplify Johnson's aesthetic interests in both modernism and African sculpture. Johnson took a particular interest in elevating the strength and dignity of African-American women and children in his sculpture, infusing his small works with a commanding presence. Other notable terra cotta heads of children by Johnson's include Chester, 1931, and Negro Woman, 1934, both in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Bowles fig. 4. p. 150; LeFalle-Collins/Wilson ill. 12, cat. no. 11.