Painting - Squares of 1, 2, 3, 4 and Square Roots to 8

This painting reflects Crockett Johnson's enduring fascination with square roots and squaring. As the title suggests, it includes four squares whose areas are 1, 2, 3, and 4 square units, and seven line segments whose lengths are the square roots of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8.
One may construct these squares and square roots by alternate applications of the Pythagorean theorem to squares running along the diagonal of the painting, and to rectangles running across the top (not all the rectangles are shown). More specifically, assume that the light-colored square in the upper left corner of the painting has side of length 1 (which equals the square root of 1). Then the diagonal is the square root of two, and a quarter circle with this radius centered at upper left corner cuts the sides of the square extended to determine two sides of a second, larger square. The area of this square (shown in the painting) is the square of the square root of 2, or two.
One can then consider the rectangle with side one and base square root of two that is in the upper left of the painting. It will have sides one and the square root of 2, and hence diagonal of length equal to the square root of three. The diagonal is not shown, but an circular arc with this radius forms the second arc in the painting. It determines the sides of a square with side equal to the square root of three and area 3. It also forms a rectangle with sides of length one and the square root of 4 (or two). This gives the third arc and the largest square in the painting.
By continuing the construction (further squares and rectangles are not shown), Crockett Johnson arrived at portions of circular arcs that cut the diameter at distances of the square roots of 5, 6, 7, and 8. Only one point on the last arc is shown. It is at the lower right corner of the painting.
Crockett Johnson executed the work in various shades and tints from his starting point at the white and pale-blue triangle to darker blues at the opposite corner.
This oil painting on masonite is not signed and its date of completion is unknown. It is #97 in the series.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Johnson, Crockett
Physical Description
masonite (substrate material)
wood (frame material)
overall: 63.3 cm x 63 cm x 2.5 cm; 24 15/16 in x 24 13/16 in x in
ID Number
catalog number
accession 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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