David Johnson Information and Inventory

David Johnson

(1827 - 1908)

David Johnson


Every collector is likely to have something that will constantly remind him of having made at least one real mistake. In my case it was a David Johnson that I purchased in 1966, largely before anybody knew much about him, but then decided it was too dark or too dull or too something. Anyway, I got rid of the painting soon thereafter. A 1988 Cornell University retrospective on the artist leads off the catalogue with a painting that is inscribed on reverse in artist’s hand “Haines Falls. Kauterskill Clove, David Johnson 1849—My First Study From Nature (made in company with J. F. Kensett & J. W. Casilear).” Getting rid of this picture was a real mistake, and it’s taken forty years to add another David Johnson to the collection, with this piece acquired at auction in 2006. Surprisingly little firsthand information exists on this artist, given his importance, since he left no diaries and didn’t write books or even contribute articles to publications of his day. He lived all but the last four years of his productive life in New York City but traveled widely throughout all the favorite painting locations of the first-generation Hudson River School artists, including Palenville, at the southern end of Kauterskill Clove in the Catskills. In 1848, according to Dr. William Gerdts, it was considered America’s first art colony.1 Johnson’s best work reveals a crystalline clarity and a silver luminism most reminiscent of J. F. Kensett (page 26). His love for surface details of trees and especially rocks align him closely to the principles of the Pre-Raphaelites. In viewing David Johnson’s work broadly, it seems he favored intimacy and fidelity to the smallest of nature’s detail while resisting the temptation for grand theatrical effects. All well and good—I still wish I had kept My First Study From Nature.

David Johnson Gallery

No paintings by this author