Singing Saints by Sargent Claude Johnson

Singing Saints by Sargent Claude Johnson

Singing Saints

Sargent Claude Johnson

Please call us at 707-546-7352 or email to purchase this item.

Singing Saints

Image Size
12 x 9 1/4" image 
pencil, lower right 
Edition Size
41 of 150  
pencil titled, lower left 
San Francisco Chronicle, March 17, 1940 
Warren's Olde Style ivory wove 
Published in the Contemporary Graphics series by the San Francisco Chronicle, this was presented on March 17, 1940 as part of the second series of prints 
Inventory ID

This is the signature print by African-American, San Francisco-based artist Sargent Johnson. Best known as a sculptor, his works - from paintings to graphics to prints to ceramics - retained a bold, rounded sculptural style that paid homage to African mask carvings, and also reflected the influence of the murals of Mexican modernists. Here, he presents two seated singers mid-refrain, one with guitar in hand. They replicate one another, the slope of their forms melding with the instrument in a joyous composition.

In 1940 the San Francisco Chronicle devised a "plan to bring western art to the western public" by presenting the series "Contemporary Graphics" to its readers. The series launched on Sunday, March 10, 1940, when they presented twenty original prints in four series over four consecutive Sundays. Works by Herman Volz, George Gaethke, Ray Bertrand, Rueben Kadish, and Arthur Murphy comprised the first series. Sunday, March 17th, the Chronicle presented the second series that included works by Glen Wessels, Sargent Johnson, A. Ray Burrell, Beckford Young, and Theodore Polos. The third series, featured on March 24th, included works by Dong Kingman, Shirley Staschen, Clay Spohn, Edgar Dorsey Taylor and George Harris. The fourth and final series was presented to the public on March 31, 1940, with works by Otis Oldfield, Benjamin Cunningham, Mallette Dean, John Haley, and Erle Loran. With the exception of Mallette Dean's linoleum block print, all the prints were original lithographs.

Each print was pencil signed and titled and the edition size was 150. The price for the individual works was $2.00 and they could be purchased in San Francisco from the following locales: the Chronicle, the City of Paris building, O’Connor, Moffatt, Paul Elder, Schwabacher-Frey, and Gumps. $2.00 in 1940 was a lot of money for most people, however, and with the war effort ramping up, the series was canceled and the unsold prints were dispersed amongst the publisher and the people involved in the project. Today, the prints stand as testament to a particular moment in the art scene of California: between the devastation of the Great Depression and the full scale of world war; when the melting pot of contemporary creativity was beginning, finally, to stretch its limbs yet again.

Sargent Claude Johnson was born on 7 October 1887 in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the third of six children born to Anderson Johnson of Swedish ancestry and Lizzie Johnson of African American and Cherokee ancestry. After the second of his parents died in 1902, Sargent was sent to live with his maternal grandparents before being placed in an orphanage in Worcester, Massachusetts.

His early studies were at the Worcester Art School in his home state. In 1915, Johnson traveled to San Francisco to attend the Panama Pacific International Exposition and decided to remain in California. He enrolled at the Arthur W. Best Art School and continued his studies at the California School of Fine Arts where he was a pupil of Ralph Stackpole and Beniamino Bufano. During the 1930s, Johnson served as a supervisor for the Federal Art Project. He created a number of lithographs under the FAP but some of his most important works during this time were Sea Form Marquee frieze of incised green slate on the exterior of the building and the mosaic murals on a promenade deck of the Aquatic Park Bathhouse (now the Maritime Museum) in San Francisco. Johnson lived for a time in Berkeley and taught at Mills College until 1948.

Johnson exhibited at the San Francisco Art Association Annuals, the Harmon Foundation National Exhibitions for black artists, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Albany Institute of History and Art, as well as at the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition and New York World’s Fair. Although he created in various media, his subjects centered upon the African American. Johnson is considered one the stellar artists of the Harlem Renaissance and he received the Harmon Foundation award for distinguished achievement among African Americans for the Fine Arts three times.


Please call us at 707-546-7352 or email to purchase this item.