Painting - Equal Areas, Their Triangular Square Root and Pi

This painting, based on a construction of Crockett Johnson, shows a central brown circle, a blue square, and a pink rectangle of equal area. Assuming the radius ot the circle is one, this area equals pi. The blue triangle has an approximate area of square root of pi, presenting the "triangular square root" in the title.
The diagram is from Crockett Johnson's papers. It begins with construction of a circle of radius one (the smaller circle with center X in the figure) and assumes he could find the square root of pi and construct the line XC equal to this as a side of the square shown. Assuming he can do this, the area of the square is pi. He then draws a circle of radius 2 centered at X , which intersects the square at F and extensions of the line XC at A and at N. Bisecting FX at O, he can draw a second unit circle centered at O. He joined A to B and F to N to obtain triangles XAB and XNF. Next, the artist constructed the semicircle with that intersects circle O at point I and the larger circle at point K. He then drew diameter KP and extended FI to H with IH = 1. To complete the illustration, Crockett Johnson outlined rectangle with sides HI and IP.
To show that the construction is correct, note that XC = JF = √(pi) because the square with side XC and circle O both have area pi. Triangle XNF = (1/2)(XN)(JF) = (1/2)(2)(√(pi)) = √(pi). To show that the rectangle with sides PI and HI has area pi observe that right triangle PIF is congruent to right triangle PFK. Thus P/IPF = PF/PK and PI = (PF)²/(PK) = (2JF)²/PK = 4(JF)²/PK = 4(√((pi))²)/4 = pi. So, the rectangle has area (HI)(PI) = (1)(pi) = pi, and the demonstration is complete.
This painting is executed in oil on masonite and is #90 in the series. The figures of the painting that display the painting’s title are colored in bright, bold colors while those shapes that constitute the background are less drastically highlighted. Thus, Crockett Johnson uses color to distinguish the important features of his construction.
This painting is unsigned and its date of completion is unknown.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Johnson, Crockett
Physical Description
masonite (substrate material)
wood (frame material)
metal (frame material)
overall: 122 cm x 120.5 cm x 3.8 cm; 48 1/16 in x 47 7/16 in x 1 1/2 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
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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