David Johnson (1827-1908)
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Born in New York City in 1827, David Johnson developed style in the mold of Kensett and Cropsey, producing important landscapes from locales as varied as the natural bridge of Virginia to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Although documentation of his biography is sparse and sometimes contradictory, it is unlikely that Johnson ever traveled to Europe, as would have been routine practice for an up-and-coming painter of Johnson’s obvious talent. It is known, however, that he studied with Jasper Cropsey, even after he had established himself as a showing painter, and was close personally and professionally with John Frederick Kensett and John William Casilear. The three painted en plein air on occasion, and Johnson was reputed to have been the first person to find Kensett’s body after his death. Though Johnson was largely self-taught, he certainly bore the stamp of Cropsey’s treatment of warm light, and, in accord with his Hudson River School contemporaries, hewed to John Ruskin’s pursuit of faithful observation of nature. Indeed, many of Johnson’s early works are careful studies of rocks and stony forested riverbeds – just the sort of subject to which the British essayist dedicated himself. Late in his long career, Johnson shifted towards a Barbizon-influenced handling of his paint, but he was unable to adopt his work to the shifting tastes of the times and died in relative obscurity.