Bowdoin College Museum of Art

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Joshua Johnson (Joshua Johnston) (1789 - 1832)


Portrait of a Man (Abner Coker)

Creation Date

ca. 1805-1810


early 19th century


27 7/8 in. x 22 in. (70.8 cm x 55.88 cm)



Creation Place

North America, United States

Medium and Support

oil on canvas

Credit Line

Museum Purchase, George Otis Hamlin Fund


Public Domain

Accession Number

This painting is a rare example of an early portrait of an African American by the African American artist Joshua Johnson (occasionally spelled Johnston). Johnson’s naturalistic style eschewed the theatricality and painterly panache of his contemporaries. Instead, he emphasized the details of the sitter’s likeness and downplayed the role of color, perhaps to enhance his subject’s sobriety and dignity. Johnson, born enslaved and later self–emancipated, appeared in Baltimore city directories as a portrait painter, with nearly 100 canvases, mostly of white individuals, attributed to him. He may have learned to paint while working for the artist Charles Willson Peale’s extended family. This portrait likely depicts the Reverend Abner Coker (ca. 1767–1833) of Baltimore’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The A. M. E. Church was first established in Philadelphia in 1816 by African Americans seeking independence from white Methodists. The denomination quickly grew throughout the mid-Atlantic states, with Coker leading the Baltimore congregation.

Object Description

Portrait of an African-American man, possibly a cleric, and sometimes identified as possibly Richard Coker or Abner Coker.

Keywords: portraits  

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