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Frank Tenney Johnson ( 1874–1939 )

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Frank Tenney Johnson was born in 1874 in Big Grove, Iowa, near the old Overland Trail. While the trail had ceased to be the main thoroughfare it once was, the tales of explorers, covered wagons, and Indian parties filled Johnson’s mind with ideas from childhood. After his mother passed away, Johnson’s father sold the family farm and moved them to Milwaukee in 1888.

After attending high school in Milwaukee for one year, Johnson dropped out, determined to pursue his artistic endeavors fulltime. Johnson scrounged up what little money he had and enrolled in art classes taught by the water colorist F.W. Heine. After a short apprenticeship with Heine, Johnson began studying with Richard Lorenz, a member of the Society of Western Painters. While continuing his studies, Johnson got a job with a local engraving firm and began to make a small living from his work with commercial entities throughout the city. Johnson saved his money and spent what he could to travel to the Indian country in South Dakota, to study and sketch from life.

With the death of his aunt in 1895, Johnson inherited enough money to travel to New York to further his studies. He joined the Art Students League and studied under John Henry Twachtman. Johnson’s money ran out after five months, and he returned to Milwaukee. In 1986 he met and married his life-long love Vinnie Reeve and in 1902 they moved back to New York. Johnson then began his studies at the New York School of Art with Robert Henri and William Merrit Chase. Looking for illustrative work in the city, Johnson had the opportunity to create advertisements for Winchester rifles, at which he excelled. Furthermore, he met the editor of Field & Stream, who in 1904 paid for Johnson to take a rail tour of the west.

This trip proved to be the most pivotal moment in Johnson’s career. From the Colorado cowboys to the Cheyenne rodeo and back down to Navajo country in New Mexico, Johnson sketched his way across the west. The visual repertoire that he built on that trip served to establish him as an authority on the west, and his illustrative career took off upon his return to New York.

In the 1920’s Johnson moved to Alhambra, California, where he sought to focus on his oil paintings rather than his illustrations. Johnson’s studio became a meeting place for leading western artists like Edward Borein and Charles M. Russell. In 1931 Johnson built a cabin and studio on the Shoshone River in Wyoming, near the east gate of Yellowstone Park, where he spent his summers.

 

Artist Works

Lot 144
(2007)
Frank Tenney Johnson (1874–1939)
Morning Clouds (1929)
Oil on Canvas
20 x 16 in
$291,200
Lot 58
(2012)
Frank Tenney Johnson (1874–1939)
North Fork, Shoshone River, Wyoming (1933)
oil on canvas
20 x 16 in
$218,500
Lot 248
(2018)
Frank Tenney Johnson (1874–1939)
Branding a Maverick (1913)
oil on canvas
34 x 24 in
$152,100
Lot 107
(2011)
Frank Tenney Johnson (1874–1939)
Home of the Navajo (1932)
oil on board
15 x 19 in
$126,500
Lot 63
(2014)
Frank Tenney Johnson (1874–1939)
The Short Cut ()
oil on canvas
34 x 24 in
$111,150
Lot 88
(2008)
Frank Tenney Johnson (1874–1939)
Range Gossip ()
Oil on Board
9.5 x 11.5 in
$103,500
Lot 279
(2016)
Frank Tenney Johnson (1874–1939)
Evening Ride ()
oil on canvas
18 x 14 in
$70,200
Lot 243
(2018)
Frank Tenney Johnson (1874–1939)
Rocky Steeps ()
oil on canvas
20 1/4 x 14 1/4 in
$38,025
Lot 55
(2013)
Frank Tenney Johnson (1874–1939)
Navajo Weaver ()
oil on masonite
12 x 16 in
$16,380
Lot 87
(2008)
Frank Tenney Johnson (1874–1939)
Navajo Weaver (1928)
Oil on Board
12 x 16 in
$80,000–$120,000
Lot 135
(2009)
Frank Tenney Johnson (1874–1939)
Eventide ()
oil on canvas stretched over board
16 x 20 in
$180,000–$225,000
Lot 69
(2014)
Frank Tenney Johnson (1874–1939)
Surprise Meeting ()
oil on canvas
27 x 17 in
$80,000–$120,000
Lot 299
(2018)
Frank Tenney Johnson (1874–1939)
Stella Seated & The Whittler ()
pencil on paper
13 x 9 (each) in
$5,000–$7,000