Joshua Johnson’s Portrait of a Gentleman, created around 1805, is one of his most famous paintings. It portrays a great active abolitionist named Reverend Daniel Coker in Johnson’s famous self-trained Neoclassical style.
Coker was born enslaved in Maryland in 1780 to a white mother and a black father. Ultimately, Coker founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia before traveling to Sierra Leon where he established a colony for freed slaves.
While in Baltimore, Coker and other African Americans faced great racial prejudices within churches. As a response to these injustices, he helped found the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816. With intentions to build more churches abroad, Coker traveled to Sierra Leon where he was welcomed to establish his AME church for the freed slaves in the colony.
Johnson portrayed Rev. Coker in the classical three-quarter view wearing the costume of the elite. Johnson’s self-teaching in the Neoclassical style is prevalent in the subtle chiaroscuro on the face and clothing. His skin tone illustrates his mixed race heritage. Coker’s facial expression seems to show trepidation for the racial situation around him.
“Coker, Daniel (1780-1846).” BlackPast.org. N.p., 2007-2015. Web. 20 Oct. 2016. <http://www.blackpast.org/aah/coker-daniel-1780-1846>