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Mathematical Treasure: Crockett Johnson's Mathematical Paintings

Judy Green (Marymount University)

Crockett Johnson, Proof of the Pythagorean Theorem (Euclid), 1965

Crockett Johnson, Proof of the Pythagorean Theorem (Euclid), 1965, Smithsonian Institution negative number 2008-2519.

Although Crockett Johnson (1906–1975) is best known as the author of the 1955 children’s book Harold and the Purple Crayon and had no formal training in mathematics, from the mid-1960s he produced what he called “a series of romantic tributes to the great geometric mathematicians from Pythagoras on up” (Reinhardt Papers, Crockett Johnson Correspondence). At first he relied on diagrams from James Newman’s The World of Mathematics as well as other mathematics books, but after a few years he began creating some paintings based on original constructions.

Crockett Johnson, Squared Circle, 1968.

Crockett Johnson, Squared Circle, 1968, Smithsonian Institution negative number 2008-2466. This was one of Johnson's own constructions.

Eighty of Crockett Johnson’s paintings are now in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. They are shown and described at the website


Ad Reinhardt Papers, 1927–1968. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Washington, DC.

Index of Mathematical Treasures

Index of Mathematical Objects

Judy Green (Marymount University), "Mathematical Treasure: Crockett Johnson's Mathematical Paintings," Convergence (August 2014)

Mathematical Treasures: Smithsonian National Museum of American History Object Groups