African American painter Malvin Gray Johnson (1896-1934) grew up in urban environments, including New York City, but in 1934 visited and painted scenes from the small town of Brightwood, Virginia. Some critics have celebrated the Brightwood paintings, which depict a vibrant natural landscape and close-knit Black community, as Johnson's discovery of an "authentic" African American life in the rural South. This view, which reflects a common tendency to regard African American artists' imagery as unmediated documentation of direct experience, overlooks Johnson's interpretive thinking. In truth, Johnson's conceptualization of the South was largely formed before he left New York, where he had studied the French expressionist Paul Cézanne. Johnson's Brightwood paintings reflect Cézanne's stylistic influence and tendency to present rural life as an idyllic alternative to modern industrialism.