William H. Johnson (18 March 1901 - 1970) was an African American painter.
Johnson was born in Florence, South Carolina in 1901. He had little formal education but developed his drawing skills penning cartoons for local newspapers. Turning 17, he moved to New York, attending the National Academy of Design and Hawthorne's Cape Cod School of Art at Provincetown
He used his graduation funds to study three years in Paris, absorbing the work of European Expressionists such as Chaïm Soutine. While in Paris he met his wife Holcha Krake, a textile designer. Together they traveled through Europe, eventually coming back to the U.S.A. in 1930. Not soon past his arrival he won a “Distinguished Achievement among Negroes” award from the Harmon Foundation. He came to settle in Denmark with his wife, with visits to Tunisia and Scandinavia influencing his style further. Returning to New York in 1938, due to a growing Nazi presence in Europe, Johnson began depicting religious scenes from African American history.
In 1944 his wife, Holcha, died from breast cancer. Finding ways of dealing with the grief, he took work in a Navy Yard, leaving for Denmark and his wife's family in 1946. Before too long, he fell ill himself, suffering from advanced syphilis. This brought him to move back to New York in 1947 to enter the Central Islip State Hospital on Long Island, where he stopped painting in 1956 and died in 1970.
Before death he donated all of his work to the National Museum of American Art, now the Smithsonian American Art Museum.