Painting - Golden Rectangle

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.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Johnson, Crockett
Physical Description
masonite (substrate material)
wood (frame material)
overall: 91.5 cm x 67 cm x 5 cm; 36 in x 26 3/8 in x 1 15/16 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Science & Mathematics
Crockett Johnson
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Crockett Johnson
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Ruth Krauss in memory of Crockett Johnson
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