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Frank Johnston

Francis Hans Johnston

Frank Johnston (also known as Franz) was born on June 19, 1888 in Toronto. Like many other Group members, he joined Grip Engraving Co. as a commercial artist. He studied in Germany from 1904 to 1907. Although his official association with the Group of Seven was brief, his friendship with the artists dated back over a much longer period.

Frank Johnston
Frank Johnston

Life and career

In 1910, he left for the United States where he studied art in Philadelphia. Later, he worked in commercial design in New York.

Johnston had much in common with the artists of the Group of Seven. Like them, in the years before World War I he used his spare time to pursue landscape painting, through sketching trips around Toronto and farther north to Bon Echo near Algonquin Park and to Hearst, north of Lake Superior—a source of inspiration for him. An eager participant in Group activities, Johnston went on all the Algoma trips except the last. Johnston did not use the techniques of Lawren Harris and J. E. H. MacDonald but, employing tempera rather than oil paint, he searched out the pattern and texture of his subject.

Johnston exhibited with The Group of Seven only once, in their first show at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario) in May 1920. Johnston’s rate of production was such that in the 1919 Algoma show he contributed sixty works – more than any other artist. A few months later, he extended his independence even more, having a large one-man show of 200 paintings at the T. Eaton Company Galleries.

In the fall of 1921, Johnston left Toronto to accept the position as principal of the Winnipeg School of Art. There he held the largest show ever seen in that city. He had been slowly moving away from the Group movement, and now the break was complete. In 1924, he announced his official resignation, claiming that he had no disagreement with the group, only that he wanted to go his own way with regards to exhibitions.

It took us out into the open air to look at Canadian landscape as distinct from European landscape. It necessarily meant that each was free to look at the landscape which attracted him…

When Johnston left The Group, he turned more to working for department store art galleries, concerning himself with decorative effects, which he constantly sought out.

Johnston’s style became increasingly realistic throughout his life, evincing a particular fascination for the qualities of light reflected from snow. This theme recurred in later works, in large narrative paintings of the 1930s and 1940s as well as more intimate examinations of a river valley, the bright blue of the water bending between snow-laden banks. His subjects range from the pastoral countryside of the Wyebridge area, northern Quebec, and the Northwest Territories. He had begun in the 1920s to hold regular solo exhibitions and his paintings found a great following among the public. Unlike many Canadian artists, Johnston was able to achieve considerable financial success in his own lifetime.

He taught at the Ontario College of Art during the 1920s. In 1927, he changed his name to Franz Johnston.

He was made a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.

He died in Toronto in 1949 and buried with his fellow artists at McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario.

Further Reading

Read the full article on Wikipedia.

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