Beneath the southern moon signed 'Frank Tenney Johnson' (lower right) oil on canvas 36 x 28in overall: 47 x 39in
PROVENANCE: Collection of Exchange Bank and Trust, Dallas, Texas Sale, Altermann Galleries, Santa Fe, December 16, 2006, lot 56 Private collection, Westchester County, New York
LITERATURE: Harold McCracken, The Frank Tenney Johnson Book, The life and work of a master painter of the Old West, Garden City, New York, 1974, p. 96a, illustrated. Myrna Zanetell, A Unique Legacy, Art of the West Magazine, July/August 2008, p. 52, illustrated.
In 1904, Frank Tenney Johnson set out to see and paint the Rocky Mountains and the Southwest. On a meager stipend from Field and Stream magazine, he travelled the backroads of Colorado and then New Mexico. His experiences there, the people he encountered and his firsthand observations of the vanishing West were to leave a life-changing impression on his photographic memory. This unique opportunity set the style and subject matter of his paintings throughout the remainder of his career.
Harold McCracken writes about this in his book on the artist as the latter is concluding his visits by train through several New Mexico towns and pueblos: It was difficult for Frank Tenney Johnson to leave Manuelita and the parts of the Indian country of the southwestern desert region, just as it had been difficult to leave the cowboy and cattle back country of Colorado. Each new day had brought new memorable experiences. Moonlit nights in rocky canyons and starlit nights around the old adobe Indian trading posts had made tremendous impression upon him. All this was to determine and shape the future of this talented young artist. The impressions he had gotten were to appear in a great many of the finest paintings he was to put on canvas until the last days of his life.
To achieve luminosity in his nocturnal compositions, Johnson studied the skies in Maxfield Parish's paintings. Collectors began to recognize that there was something different about his work that made him stand apart from the older Western icons such as Charles M. Russell and Frederic Remington. While those artists were associated with the wild West of gunfights, stampedes and plains warfare, Johnson's West was generally one where the fight had gone out of its inhabitants. Their West was vast, arid and difficult, but it was now settled. He portrayed cowboys having a smoke, Indians trading and Mexicans relaxing. Beneath the Southern Moon exemplifies Johnson's perspective of the West marvelously as it captures the artist's own descriptive diary entries as written in McCracken's 1974 book.
His Field and Stream assignment was so successful that he returned to the West on several occasions for the magazine and later for his own career as a painter.
Johnson is often considered the artist that "represented the best in the Old West." In 1942, Grand Central Art Galleries in New York hosted an exhibition of the artist's work. The entire show was allegedly bought by the noted Western collector Amon G. Carter on opening night.