Frank Tenney Johnson, ANA 1929, NA 1937
Johnson's English forebears arrived in America in the mid-seventeenth century. Following the pattern of Western migration, his grandfather settled in Wisconsin in 1842, and following the Civil War his father moved on to Iowa.
Left: Southern Night, 1927, oil on canvas, 27 1/4 x 36 inches, NA diploma presentation, December 6, 1937
When Johnson was fourteen years old, the family returned to Wisconsin, where he began formal schooling. He showed a great aptitude for drawing and in 1891 went to Milwaukee, where he studied under various painters and worked as an engraver and illustrater. In 1895 he was in New York for a brief time and studied at the Art Students League.
Johnson was in New York again in 1902. This time he pursued his artistic studies with Robert Henri at the New York School of Art while working as a newspaper artist, engraving shop foreman, and later as a fashion artist. In 1904, after a successful exhibition of his Western paintings, he went on an extended trip to Colorado where he gained first-hand knowledge of Western life for use in his action-packed paintings.
Returning to New York, he illustrated stories by Zane Grey and other writers and continued exhibiting his paintings. In about 1927 he established his home in Alhambra, California, and there he developed an extensive collection of Western hats, boots, saddles, ropes, and weapons, which were useful props for his paintings as well as a personal extension of his fascination with the Western genre.
Johnson received the Salmagundi Club's Shaw prize in 1923 and the Allied Artists of America's Brown and Bigelow Silver Medal in 1929. Tn that same year he was elected to the National Arts Club as well as to the Academy. Although easel paintings on Western themes were Johnson's primary work, he also worked occasionally on a larger scale; in 1927 he executed the curtain and two flanking murals on historical subjects for the stage of the Carthay Circle Theater in Los Angeles. A memorial exhibition of Johnson's work was held at Crand Central Art Galleries, New York, in 1942.
At about the time Johnson became a member, the Academy instituted the biographical questionnaire form it asks all newly elected members to complete for historical record. Johnson was unusually expansive in his, writing the following:
Text and images courtesy of National Academy of Design.
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This page was originally published in 1997 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 11/8/11
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