Johnston (or Johnson), Joshua(?1765–?1830) painter; birthplace unknown, but often taken to be Baltimore, Md. Virtually no biographical details are known of Johnston, often referred to as the first African-American portrait painter. He has been variously identified as a West Indian immigrant and a former slave. The Baltimore City Directory during the period of his greatest activity (c. 1796–c. 1824) lists his studio at eight different addresses in and around Baltimore. Many critics think he was influenced by, and some suggest he may have studied with, Charles Peale Polk, a relative of Charles Willson Peale, and one of the members of the talented family of painters. Johnston painted the Maryland and Virginia gentry; Portrait of a Cleric is his only work thought to depict an African-American. Virtually unrecognized until 1939, he was the subject of a retrospective exhibit at the Peake Museum in Baltimore (1948) and his work hangs in most major American museums.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.