Oil on canvas, 14.5 x 25 inches/Signed lower left
Johnson was born in New York City, but other than the documentation that his artwork provides, little else is known of his life. It is known that he enrolled in the National Academy of Design at age 18 where he took instruction from William Casilear, and Hudson River School artists Jasper Francis Cropsey, and John Frederick Kensett. He was to become part of the second generation of Hudson River School of painters. With Casilear and Kensett, Johnson promoted the "luminist" manner of landscape painting, which he executed with a masterful control of sunlight and atmosphere. Clement and Hutton in, Artists of the Nineteenth Century (1879) noted that Johnson "was a close student of nature, looking upon her as teacher and master." He was skilled at painting rocks—capturing them in "complex and beautiful studies of their varied shapes and textures" (Baur, 1980). He would periodically return to this theme during his career. His home base was New York City where he kept a succession of studios and from whence he traveled at various times to the Hudson River valley, Lake George, Catskill and Adirondack Mountains in New York State, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Androsoggin River in Maine, and Cos Cob, Connecticut. In 1850, Cropsey joined him at West Milford, New Jersey, where, according to John Baur (1980), "he surpassed the master". In 1851 Johnson was in the artists’ colony at North Conway, at the foot of the White Mountains painting with Casilear, John Williamson and Benjamin Champney. He made at a trip to Virginia in 1864 to paint the Natural Bridge and was on the west coast during 1864 and 1865, painting Rooster Rock in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. He briefly experimented with the tonalism of the French Barbizon School in the latter part of the nineteenth century, his skill with light in the tonalists style, resulted in his being referred to as the "American Rousseau,". After the early 1860s, Johnson signed his paintings with a characteristic intertwined "D" and "J". Johnson was a member of American Art Union, Brooklyn Art Association; and an elected member of the National Academy of Design. He exhibited at the National Academy of Design (1849–99; American Art Union (1849); Brooklyn Art Association (1861–82, 1892); Centennial Exposition, Philadelphia, (1876, first class medal); Salon (1877); Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association, Boston, (1878, medals) and The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.