Our museum is temporarily closed to support the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. Read a message from our director, and check our website and social media for updates.

Painting - Polar Line of a Point and a Circle (Apollonius)

Painting - Polar Line of a Point and a Circle (Apollonius)

<< >>
Usage conditions apply
In 1966, Crockett Johnson carefully read Nathan A. Court's book College Geometry, selecting diagrams that he thought would be suitable for paintings. In the chapter on harmonic division, he annotated several figures that relate to this painting. The work shows two orthoganol circles, that is to say two circles in which the square of the line of centers equals the sum of the squares of the radii. A right triangle formed by the line of centers and two radii that intersect is shown. The small right triangle in light purple in the painting is this triangle.
Crockett Johnson's painting combines a drawing of this triangle with a more complex figure used in a discussion of further properties of lines drawn in orthoganal circles. In particular, suppose that one draws a line segment from a point outside a circle that intersects it in two points, and selects a fourth point on the line that divides the segment harmonically. For a single exterior point, all these such points lie on a single line, perpendicular to the line of centers of the two circles, which is called the polar line.
The painting is #38 in the series. It has a background in two shades of cream, and a light tan wooden frame. It shows two circles that overlap slightly and have various sections. The circles are in shades of blue, purple and cream. The painting is signed: CJ66.
References: Nathan A. Court, College Geometry (1964 printing), p. 175–78. This volume was in Crockett Johnson's library.
T. L. Heath, ed., Apollonius of Perga: Treatise on Conic Sections (1961 reprint). This volume was not in Crockett Johnson's library.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Apollonius of Perga
Johnson, Crockett
Physical Description
masonite (substrate material)
wood (frame material)
overall: 61 cm x 83 cm x 3.8 cm; 24 in x 32 11/16 in x 1 1/2 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
Nominate this object for photography.   

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.


Add a comment about this object