Painting - Conic Curve (Apollonius)

In ancient times, the Greek mathematician Apollonius of Perga (about 240–190 BC) made extensive studies of conic sections, the curves formed when a plane slices a cone. Many centuries later, the French mathematician and philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650) showed how the curves studied by Apollonius might be related to points on a straight line. In particular, he introduced an equation in two variables expressing points on the curve in terms of points on the line. An article by H. W. Turnbull entitled "The Great Mathematicians" found in The World of Mathematics by James R. Newman discussed the interconnections between Apollonius and Descartes, and apparently was the basis of this painting. The copy of this book in Crockett Johnson's library is very faintly annotated on this page. Turnbull shows variable length ON, with corresponding points P on the curve.
The analytic approach to geometry taken by Descartes would be greatly refined and extended in the course of the seventeenth century.
Johnson executed his painting in white, purple, and gray. Each section is painted its own shade. This not only dramatizes the coordinate plane but highlights the curve that extends from the middle of the left edge to the top right corner of the painting.
Conic Curve, an oil or acrylic painting on masonite, is #11 in the series. It was completed in 1966 and is signed: CJ66. It is marked on the back: Crockett Johnson 1966 (/) CONIC CURVE (APOLLONIUS). It has a wooden frame.
Currently not on view
date made
Apollonius of Perga
Johnson, Crockett
Physical Description
masonite (substrate material)
wood (frame material)
overall: 84.3 cm x 74 cm x 3.5 cm; 33 3/16 in x 29 1/8 in x 1 3/8 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Ruth Krauss in memory of Crockett Johnson
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Science & Mathematics
Crockett Johnson
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


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