Frank Tenney Johnson

As a Taos artist, Frank Tenney Johnson’s landscapes focused on Western scenes of the everyday cowboy lifestyle, with a heavy emphasis on horses in the evenings. In 1874, Johnson was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, an area frequented by western travelers which exposed him at a very young age to the western movement. He moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1884 and apprenticed with first F. W. Heinie (1845-1921), a German panoramic painter, and a year later with Richard Lorenz (1858 - 1915), who specialized in western scenes and horses. During his apprenticeships, Johnson also contributed illustrations to his local publications to save money for formal schooling, which he attended at the Art Students League in New York for a few months until he returned home due to lack of funds. Once he was able to save again, he returned to the school and studied under Robert Henri (1865-1929), William Merritt Chase (1849–1916), John Twachtman (1853–1902), to name a few.

While attending school, he gained a commission through Field and Stream to travel west into Colorado and Wyoming, encountering countless cowboys and eventually saw the Navajo Indians in New Mexico. This expedition changed the course of Johnson’s academic style of painting into a western artistry. He began creating painstakingly detailed pictures of horses tied outside of a saloon, or other like scenes with horses being his preferred subject, with each painting taking a year to complete. His moody and romanticized scenes sold out in every showing that he participated in, making him one of the most celebrated western artists of his time. He moved to Alhambra, California where he opened a studio and gallery with a fellow artist, Clyde Forsythe. During the height of his success, Frank Tenney Johnson contracted spinal meningitis and passed away suddenly in December of 1939, leaving behind many invaluable scenes of western America in the age of exploration.