Frank Tenney Johnson was a painter of the Old American West, and he popularized a style of painting cowboys which became known as “The Johnson Moonlight Technique”. Somewhere on the Range is an example of Johnson’s moonlight technique. To paint his paintings he used knives, fingers and brushes.
Johnson was born in Pottawattamie County, Iowa on his family’s farm along the old Overland Trail, near Big Grove, Iowa (now known as Oakland, Iowa). Johnson’s mother died in December 1886, and the family moved to Wisconsin. He attended Oconomowoc High School in Oconomowoc. In 1893, he enrolled in the Milwaukee School of Art (absorbed by Milwaukee State Normal School in 1913), where he studied with Richard Lorenz, a well-known painter of western subjects. In 1895, Johnson moved to New York City where he studied with John Henry Twachtman at the Art Students League of New York.
In his early career, he worked primarily as an illustrator. He began working for Field & Stream magazine in 1904. In addition to Field & Stream, he contributed to Cosmopolitan and Harpers Weekly magazines, and illustrated the Western novels of Zane Grey.
Johnson lived permanently in New York from 1904 until 1920, making numerous trips to the west to gather source material for his works that were completed in his New York studio. He lived on a ranch in Colorado for a while, later he went southwest to work on painting Native Americans. In 1920, he moved to 22 Champion Place in Alhambra, California where he shared a studio with Clyde Forsythe. At this point Johnson’s easel paintings became more popular than his illustrations so he concentrated in this medium. Together Johnson and Forsythe founded the Biltmore Art Gallery at the Biltmore Hotel.
Between 1931 and 1939, he spent much of his time at his studio in Cody, Wyoming, just outside Yellowstone National Park. Many of his paintings were done there from studies inside the park.
Johnson died from spinal meningitis in 1939 in Pasadena, California.