#
Mathematical Paintings of Crockett Johnson

Inspired by the allure of the space age, many Americans of the 1960s took great interest in mathematics and science. One of them was the cartoonist, book illustrator, and children’s author David Crockett Johnson. From 1965 until his death in 1975 Crockett Johnson painted over 100 works relating to mathematics and mathematical physics. Of these paintings, eighty are found in the collections of the National Museum of American History. We present them her, with related diagrams from the artist’s library and papers.

"Mathematical Paintings of Crockett Johnson - Introduction" showing 80 items.

Page 4 of 8

## Painting -

*Parabolic Triangles (Archimedes)*- Description
- According to the classical Greek tradition, the quadrature or squaring of a figure is the construction, with the aid of only straight edge and compass, of a square equal in area to that of the figure. Finding the area bounded by curved surfaces was not an easy task. The parabola and other conic sections had been known for almost a century before Archimedes wrote a short treatise called
*Quadrature of the Parabola*in about 240 BC. This was the first demonstration of the area bounded by a conic section.

- In his proof, Archimedes first constructed a triangle whose sides consisted of two tangents of a parabola and the chord connecting the points of tangency. He then showed that the area under the parabola (shown in white and light green in the painting) is two thirds of the area of the triangle that circumscribes it. Once the area bounded by the tangent could be expressed in terms of the area of a triangle, it was easy to construct the corresponding square. Crockett Johnson’s painting is based on diagrams illustrating a discussion of Archimedes’s proof given by H. Dorrie (Figure 54) or J. R. Newman (Figure 9).

- This oil painting is #43 in the series, and is signed: CJ69. It has a gray background and a gray frame. It shows a triangle that circumscribes a portion of a parabola. The large triangle is divided into a triangle in shades of light green, which touches a triangle in shades of dark green. The region between the triangles is divided into black and white areas. A second painting in the series, #78 (1979.1093.52) illustrates the same theorem.

- References: Heinrich Dorrie, trans. David Antin,
*100 Great Problems of Elementary Mathematics: Their History and Solution*(1965), p. 239. This volume was in Crockett Johnson’s library and his copy is annotated.

- James R. Newman,
*The World of Mathematics*(1956), p. 105. This volume was in Crockett Johnson's library. The figure on this page is annotated.

- Location
- Currently not on view

- date made
- 1969

- referenced
- Archimedes

- painter
- Johnson, Crockett

- ID Number
- 1979.1093.31

- catalog number
- 1979.1093.31

- accession number
- 1979.1093

- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

## Painting -

*Square Roots to Sixteen (Theodorus of Cyrene)*- Description
- Greek mathematicians knew that numbers could not always be represented as simple ratios of whole numbers. They devised ways to describe them geometrically. The title of this painting refers to Theodorus of Cyrene (about 465–398 BC), a Greek geometer who, according to the Greek mathematician Theaetetus (about 417–369 BC), constructed the square roots of the numbers from 3 through 17. Crockett Johnson's painting follows a diagram in Evans G. Valens's
*The Number of Things*that stops with the square root of 16.

- The construction of this oil or acrylic painting, #45 in the series, begins with a vertical line segment of length one. Crockett Johnson then drew a right angle at the base of the segment and an adjacent line with length one. From the Pythagorean theorem, it follows that a line from the center of the spiral has length equal to the square root of 2. The construction was continued until the last hypotenuse displayed length equal to the square root of 16.

- The painting, which looks like a seashell, shows a specific color pattern. The three dark gray triangles have hypotenuses whose lengths are whole numbers (the square roots of 4, 9, and 16). The six white triangles have hypotenuses whose lengths are irrational and are square roots of even integers. Finally, the six tan triangles have hypotenuses whose lengths are irrational and the square roots of odd integers.

- The painting dates from 1967 and is signed: CJ67. It is marked on the back: Crockett Johnson (/) SQUARE ROOTS TO SIXTEEN (/) (THEODORUS OF CYRENE).

- Location
- Currently not on view

- date made
- 1967

- referenced
- Theodorus of Cyrene

- painter
- Johnson, Crockett

- ID Number
- 1979.1093.32

- catalog number
- 1979.1093.32

- accession number
- 1979.1093

- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

## Painting -

*Golden Rectangle (Pythagoras)*- Description
- The ancient Greek mathematician Euclid showed in his
*Elements*that it is possible to divide a line segment into two smaller segments wherein the ratio of the whole length to the longer part equals the ratio of the longer part to the smaller. He used this theorem in his construction of a regular pentagon. The ratio came to be called the golden ratio. If the sides of a rectangle are in the golden ratio, it is called a golden rectangle. Several Crockett Johnson paintings explore the golden ratio and related geometric figures. This paintings suggest how a golden rectangle can be constructed, given the length of its shorter side. On the right in the painting is the golden rectangle that results. Lines in a triangle on the left indicate how the rectangle could have been constructed. Also included are the outlines of a hexagon and a five-pointed star constructed once the ratio had been found.

- This painting follows a diagram on the top of page 131 in Evans G. Valens,
*The Number of Things*. This diagram is annotated. Valens describes a geometrical solution to the two expressions f x f = e x c and f = e - c, and associates it with the Pythagoreans. The right triangle on the upper part of Valens's drawing, with the short side and part of the hypotenuse equal to f, is shown facing to the left in the painting. It can be constructed from a square with side equal to the shorter side of the rectangle. Two of the smaller rectangles in the painting are also golden rectangles. Crockett Johnson also includes in the background the star shown by Valens and related lines.

- The painting on masonite is #46 in the series. It has a black and purple background and a black wooden frame. It is unsigned. The inscription on the back reads: GOLDEN RECTANGLE (/) (PYTHAGORAS) (/) Crockett Johnson 1968. Compare #103 (1979.1093.70) and #64 (1979.1093.39).

- Location
- Currently not on view

- date made
- 1968

- referenced
- Pythagoras

- painter
- Johnson, Crockett

- ID Number
- 1979.1093.33

- catalog number
- 1979.1093.33

- accession number
- 1979.1093

- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

## Painting -

*Rectangles of Equal Area (Pythagoras)*- Description
- Crockett Johnson used a wide range of geometrical constructions as the basis for his paintings. This painting is based on a method of constructing a rectangle equal in area to a given rectangle, given one side of the rectangle to be constructed.

- In the painting, suppose that the cream-colored rectangle on the bottom left is given, as well as a line segment extending from the upper right corner of it. Construct the small triangle on the upper left. Draw the three horizontal lines shown, as well as the diagonal of the rectangle constructed. Extend this diagonal until it meets the bottom line, creating another triangle. The length of the base of this triangle will be the side of the rectangle desired. This rectangle is on the upper right in the painting.

- This construction has been associated with the ancient Pythagoreans. Crockett Johnson may well have learned it from Evans G. Valens,
*The Number of Things*. The drawing on page 121 of this book is annotated, although the annotations are faint.

- The oil painting is #48 in the series. It has a black background and a black wooden frame, with the two equal triangles in light shades. The painting is signed on the front: CJ69. It is signed on the back: RECTANGLES OF EQUAL AREA (/) (PYTHAGORAS) (/) Crockett Johnson 1969.

- Location
- Currently not on view

- date made
- 1969

- referenced
- Pythagoras

- painter
- Johnson, Crockett

- ID Number
- 1979.1093.34

- catalog number
- 1979.1093.34

- accession number
- 1979.1093

- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

## Painting -

*Squared Circle*- Description
- This oil painting on pressed wood, #52 in the series, shows an original construction of Crockett Johnson. He executed this work in 1968, three years after he began creating mathematical paintings. It is evident that the artist was very proud of this construction because he drew four paintings dealing with the problem of squaring the circle. The construction was part of Crockett Johnson's first original mathematical work, published in
*The Mathematical Gazette*in early 1970. A diagram relating to the painting was published there.

- To "square a circle," mathematically speaking, is to construct a square whose area is equal to that of a given circle using only a straightedge (an unmarked ruler) and a compass. It is an ancient problem dating from the time of Euclid and is one of three problems that eluded Greek geometers and continued to elude mathematicians for 2,000 years. In 1880, the German mathematician Ferdinand von Lindermann showed that squaring a circle in this way is impossible - pi is a transcendental number. Because this proof is complicated and difficult to understand, the problem of squaring a circle continues to attract amateur mathematicians like Crockett Johnson. Although he ultimately understood that the circle cannot be squared with a straightedge and compass, he managed to construct an approximate squaring.

- Crockett Johnson began his construction with a circle of radius one. In this circle he inscribed a square. Therefore, in the figure, AO=OB=1 and OC=BC=√(2) / 2. AC=AO+OC=1 + √(2) / 2 and AB=√(AC² + BC²) = &#*&#);(2+√(2)). Crockett Johnson let N be the midpoint of OT and constructed KN parallel to AC. K is thus the midpoint of AB, and KN=AO - (AC)/2=(2-&#*&#);(2)) / 4. Next, he let P be the midpoint of OG, and he drew KP, which intersects AO at X. Crockett Johnson then computed NP=NO+OP=(√(2))/4+(1/2). Triangle POX is similar to triangle PNK, so XO/OP=KN/NP. From this equality it follows that XO=(3-2√(2))/2.

- Also, AX=AO-XO=(2√(2)-1)/2 and XC=XO+OC=(3-√(2))/2. Crockett Johnson continued his approximation by constructing XY parallel to AB. It is evident that triangle XYC is similar to triangle ABC, and so XY/XC=AB/AC. This implies that XY=[√((2+√(2)) × (8-5√(2))]/2. Finally he constructed XZ=XY and computed AZ=AX+XZ=[2√(2)-1+(√(2+√(2)) × (8-5√(2))]/2 which approximately equals 1.772435. Crockett Johnson knew that the square root of pi approximately equals 1.772454, and thus AZ is approximately equal to √(Π) - 0.000019. Knowing this value, he constructed a square with each side equal to AZ. The area of this square is (AZ)² = 3.1415258. This differs from the area of the circle by less than 0.0001. Thus, Crockett Johnson approximately squared the circle.

- The painting is signed: CJ68. It is marked on the back: SQUARED CIRCLE* (/) Crockett Johnson 1968 (/) FLAT OIL ON PRESSED WOOD) (/) MATHEMATICALLY (/) DEMONSTRATED (/) TO √π + 0.000000001. It has a white wooden frame. Compare to painting #91 (1979.1093.60).

- References: Crockett Johnson, “On the Mathematics of Geometry in My Abstract Paintings,”
*Leonardo*5 (1972): p. 98.

- C. Johnson, “A Geometrical look at √π,"
*Mathematical Gazette*, 54 (1970): p. 59–60. the figure is from p. 59.

- Location
- Currently not on view

- date made
- 1968

- painter
- Johnson, Crockett

- ID Number
- 1979.1093.35

- catalog number
- 1979.1093.35

- accession number
- 1979.1093

- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

## Painting -

*Problem of Delos Constructed from a Solution by Isaac Newton (Arithmetica Universalis)*- Description
- Two paintings in the Crockett Johnson collection concern the ancient problem of doubling the volume of a given cube, or the problem of Delos. Crockett Johnson wrote of this problem: "Plutarch mentions it, crediting as his source a now lost version of the legend written by the third century BC Alexandrian Greek astronomer Eratosthenes, who first measured the size of the Earth. Suffering from plague, Athens sent a delegation to Delos, Apollo’s birthplace, to consult its oracle. The oracle’s instruction to the Athenians, to double the size of their cubical altar stone, presented an impossible problem. . . ."(p. 99). Hence the reference to the problem of Delos in the title of the painting.

- Isaac Newton suggested a solution to the problem in his book
*Arithmetica Universalis*, first published in 1707. His construction served as the basis of the painting. Newton’s figure, as redrawn by Crockett Johnson, begins with a base (OA), bisected at a point (B), with an equilateral triangle (OCB) constructed on one of the halves of the base. Newton then extended the sides of this triangle through one vertex. Placing a marked straightedge at one end of the base (O), he rotated the rule so that the distance between the two lines extended equaled the sides of the triangle (in the figure, DE = OB = BA = OC = BC). If these line segments are of length one, one can show that the line segment OD is of length equal to the cube root of two, as desired.

- In Crockett Johnson’s painting, the line OA slants across the bottom and the line ODE is vertical on the left. The four squares drawn from the upper left corner (point E) have sides of length 1, the cube root of 2, the cube root of 4, and two. The distance DE (1) represents the edge of the side and the volume of a unit cube, while the sides of three larger squares represent the edge (the cube root of 2), the side (the square of the cube root of 2) and the volume (the cube of the cube root of two) of the doubled cube.

- This oil painting on masonite is #56 in the series and dates from 1970. The work is signed: CJ70. It is inscribed on the back: PROBLEM OF DELOS (/) CONSTRUCTED FROM A SOLUTION BY (/) ISAAC NEWTON (ARITHMETICA UNIVERSALIS) (/) Crockett Johnson 1970. The painting has a wood and metal frame. For related documentation see 1979.3083.04.06. See also painting number 85 (1979.1093.55), with the references given there.

- Reference: Crockett Johnson, “On the Mathematics of Geometry in My Abstract Paintings,”
*Leonardo*5 (1972): pp. 98–9.

- Location
- Currently not on view

- date made
- 1970

- referenced
- Newton, Isaac

- painter
- Johnson, Crockett

- ID Number
- 1979.1093.36

- catalog number
- 1979.1093.36

- accession number
- 1979.1093

- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

## Painting -

*Division of the Square by Conic Rectangles*- Description
- This painting shows three rectangles of equal area, one in shades of blue, one in shades of purple, and one in shades of pink. The height of the middle rectangle equals the height of the first rectangle less its own width, while the height of the third rectangle equals the height of the first triangle less the width of the first triangle. Crockett Johnson associated these properties with conic curves. The construction is that of the artist. The coloring was suggested by a recently discovered French cave painting. The narrow rectangle on the left side and the dark, thin triangle at the base were also added to correspond to the cave painting.

- The oil painting on masonite is #60 in the series. It is signed: CJ70, and inscribed on the back: DIVISION OF THE SQUARE BY CONIC RECTANGLES (/) (GNOMON ADDED AT THE SUGGESTION OF A CRO-MAGNON (/) ARTIST OF LASCAUX (/) Crockett Johnson 1970. The painting is in a black wooden frame. For related documentation see 1979.3083.02.05.

- Reference: Crockett Johnson, "On the Mathematics of Geometry in My Abstract Paintings,"
*Leonardo*5 (1972): pp. 98–101.

- Location
- Currently not on view

- date made
- 1970

- painter
- Johnson, Crockett

- ID Number
- 1979.1093.37

- catalog number
- 1979.1093.37

- accession number
- 1979.1093

- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

## Painting -

*Aligned Triangles (Desargues)*- Description
- In the 17th century, the French engineer and architect Girard Desargues (1591–1661) explored interconnections between extensions of the lines within a pencil of three line segments (a pencil of line segments consists of several line segments originating at a common point). His theorems, as published in his own extremely obscure work and also by his contemporary, Abraham Bosse, were extended in the 19th century, and proved of fundamental importance to projective geometry.

- Crockett Johnson's library contains discussions of Desargues' theorem by H. S. M. Coxeter, N. A. Court, Heinrich Dorrie, and William M. Ivins. This painting most resembles a figure from Coxeter, although the diagram is not annotated. Suppose that the vertices of two triangles (PQR and P'Q'R' in Figure 1.5B from Coxeter) lie on a pencil of three line segments emanating from the point O. Suppose that similarly situated sides of the two triangles can be extended to meet in the three points denoted by A, C and B in the figure. According to Desargues' theorem, A, C, and B are collinear.

- In the painting, the two concurrent triangles are shown in shades of gray and black, while the top of the pencil of three lines is in shades of gold. Extensions of the sides and their points of intersection are clearly shown. Both the figure and the background of the painting are divided by the line joining the points of intersection

- The painting is #63 in the series. It is painted in oil or acrylic on masonite, and has a brown wooden frame. The painting is signed: CJ70.

- References:

- Newman, J. R.,
*The World of Mathematics*, p. 133. Figure annotated.

- Court, N. A.,
*College Geometry*(1952), pp. 163–5. The figure is not annotated.

- Coxeter, H. S. M.,
*The Real Projective Plane*, (1955 edition), p. 7. The figure resembles the painting but is not annotated.

- Dorrie, Heinrich,
*100 Great Problems of Elementary Mathematics: Their History and Solution*(1965), p. 267. There is an annotated figure here for another theorem of Desargues, the theorem of involution.

- Field, J. V.,
*The Invention of Infinity: Mathematics and Art in the Renaissance*(1997), pp. 190–206.

- Ivins, William M. Jr.,
*Art & Geometry: A Study in Space Intuitions*(1946), pp. 87–94.

- Location
- Currently not on view

- date made
- 1970

- referenced
- Desargues, Girard

- painter
- Johnson, Crockett

- ID Number
- 1979.1093.38

- accession number
- 1979.1093

- catalog number
- 1979.1093.38

- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

## Painting -

*Golden Rectangle*- Description
- Crockett Johnson annotated several diagrams in his copy of Valens’s book
*The Number of Things*, and used a few of them as the basis of paintings. This is one example. It shows three golden rectangles, the curves from a compass used to construct the rectangles, and a section of a five-pointed Pythagorean star.

- Euclid showed in his
*Elements*that it is possible to divide a line segment into two smaller segments wherein the ratio of the whole length to the longer part equals the ratio of the longer part to the smaller. He used this theorem in his construction of a regular pentagon. This ratio came to be called the “golden ratio.”

- A golden rectangle is a rectangle whose sides adhere to the golden ratio (in modern terms, the ratio of its length to its width equals (1 + √(5) ) /2, or about 1.62). The golden rectangle is described as the rectangle whose proportions are most pleasing to the eye.

- This painting shows the relationship between a golden rectangle and a five-pointed Pythagorean star by constructing the star from the rectangle. It follows a diagram on the top of page 131 in Evans G. Valens,
*The Number of Things*. This diagram is annotated. Valens describes a geometrical solution to the two expressions f x f = e x c and f = e - c, and associates it with the Pythagoreans. The right triangle on the upper part of Valens's drawing, with the short side and part of the hypotenuse equal to f, is shown facing to the left in the painting. It can be constructed from a square with side equal to the shorter side of the rectangle. Two of the smaller rectangles in the painting are also golden rectangles. Crockett Johnson also includes in the background the star shown by Valens and related lines.

- This painting on masonite, #64 in the series, dates from 1970 and is signed: CJ70. It also is marked on the back: ”GOLDEN RECTANGLE (/) Crockett Johnson 1970. It is executed in two hues of gold to emphasize individual sections. While this method creates a detailed and organized contrast, it disguises the three rectangles and the star. Compare paintings 1979.1093.33 (#46) and 1979.1093.70 (#103).

- Reference: Evans G. Valens,
*The Number of Things*(1964), p. 131.

- Location
- Currently not on view

- date made
- 1970

- painter
- Johnson, Crockett

- ID Number
- 1979.1093.39

- accession number
- 1979.1093

- catalog number
- 1979.1093.39

- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

## Painting -

*Geometric Mean (Archytas)*- Description
- This painting demonstrates a construction for finding the geometric mean of two line segments credited to the Greek mathematician Archytas (flourished 400–350 BC), an admirer of Pythagoras. Place the line segments end to end, and draw a circle with this length as diameter. Erect a perpendicular at the point where the line segments meet (d in the figure), and consider this to be the altitude of a right triangle inscribed in the semicircle. By similar triangles, the length of the perpendicular of a triangle inscribed in a semicircle is the geometric mean of the two lengths into which it divides the diameter of the circle. Hence the length of d is the mean of the segments e and f.

- This painting an orange-red background, and shows a triangle inscribed in an orange semicircle. The perpendicular from the right angle of the triangle divides the triangle into triangles similar to it, painted in black and white.

- The painting, and the attribution of the theorem to Archytas, are based on a passage from Evans G. Valens,
*The Number of Things: Pythagoras, Geometry and Humming Strings*(1964), p. 118. The figure on this page of this book from Crockett Johnson's library is annotated.

- This oil painting on masonite is #65 in the series. It is inscribed on the back: GEOMETRIC MEAN (ARCHYTAS) (/) Crockett Johnson 1968. It has a wooden frame.

- Location
- Currently not on view

- date made
- 1968

- referenced
- Archytas

- painter
- Johnson, Crockett

- ID Number
- 1979.1093.40

- accession number
- 1979.1093

- catalog number
- 1979.1093.40

- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center