Jonathan Eastman Johnson was born in 1824 in Lovell, Maine. He grew up in Freyburg and Augusta, Maine, where his father held various state government positions. Between 1840 and 1842 he worked in Boston at J. H. Bufford's lithography shop. For the following three years he travelled as itinerant portrait draughtsman in New England and Washington, DC, where he prepared a portfolio of portraits of national leaders. Between 1846 and 1849 he continued to work as a portraitist in Boston. In 1849 he sailed for Düsseldorf and after an initial study at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie, in 1851 entered the studio of the German-American history painter Emmanuel Leutze. In 1850 he sent two paintings to the American Art-Union in New York. In the Summer of 1851 he travelled to London for the International Exposition and in the autumn moved to The Hague where he remained four years studying the Old Masters. During 1855 he studied briefly with Thomas Couture in Paris and, in October, returned to the USA. Between 1855 and 1858 visited Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, Superior, Wisconsin-where he painted Chippewa Indians-before opening a studio in New York. In 1859 he exhibited the work Life in the South (New York Historical Society) which established his reputation as one of the foremost painters of American life. In 1861-1865, he alternately sketched Union troops on Civil War battlefield and maple sugar camps of Maine. In 1869 he was married to Elizabeth Buckley. The following year he visited Nantucket Island for the first time: the following year he built there a summer home. Between 1875 and 1880 he painted Nantucket cranberry harvest. After 1881 he turned his attention again to portraiture and painted many leading figures of the day and Nantucket neighbours in the summer. In 1885 and in 1897 he visited Europe. After 1900 he painted very little. He died in 1906 in New York City.
Katherine E. Manthorne