In this ongoing series for Fine Art Today, we take a longer look at the history and features of a soon-to-be-available artwork of note. This week: Frank Tenney Johnson, “In Old Wyoming aka On the Alert.”
Born in 1874, artist Frank Tenney Johnson (1874-1939) is perhaps best known for developing a style of painting Native Americans and cowboys called “The Johnson Moonlight Technique.” Raised in western Iowa, Johnson witnessed first-hand the streams of wagons, cattle, and horses heading west during the late 19th century, subjects that became the hallmark of his paintings. Working predominantly as an illustrator, Johnson worked for Field and Stream magazine after 1904 traveling west to illustrate the lives of cattlemen in New Mexico and Colorado.
Johnson’s work did not achieve notoriety until about 1920, when he became more involved with both the New York and California art scenes. The National Wildlife Museum reports, “Johnson was most influenced by his early instructors, John H. Twachtman, William Merritt Chase, and Robert Henri, who were all known for their excellent draftsmanship, painterly brushwork, and a fascination for outdoor light. He appropriated elements from the Munich style and American and French Impressionism, but incorporated those features to form his own romantic realistic style. Often he is associated with Frederic Remington and Charles Russell because of their concentration on the trail and the range. However, Johnson is best known for his nocturnal scenes in which he concentrated on the effects of moonlight on form and color.”
Heading to auction on November 15 via Altermann Galleries & Auctioneers is a stunning example of Johnson’s famed moonlight style. “In Old Wyoming aka On the Alert” displays an attentive cowboy on horseback during the dead of night. The piece has a beautiful glow that captures masterfully how the moonlight can turn night into day. Also immediately noticeable is the expressive touch of Johnson’s brush, recalling C. M. Russell. A sharp diagonal composition adds a sense of tension and movement to an otherwise still piece. As intriguing is the rider’s horse, who also seems keenly aware of his — or her — surroundings.
Auction estimates are between $150,000 and $200,000.
To view the full catalogue, visit Altermann Galleries & Auctioneers.
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.


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