Frank Tenney Johnson said of his Western subjects, "seeing these people in the moonlight or even in the magic light of the stars impressed me very deeply." (as quoted in The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier, p. 175) Observations like this led Johnson to produce a large number of paintings of subjects under the green-blue shadows of the Western night sky. Recognized as his greatest technical achievements, these nocturnal scenes remain the works for which the artist is best known. Richard Saunders tells us "During the 1910s and 1920s such romantic 'nocturnes' won Johnson critical praise. In 1923 a painting of a rugged Mexican traveling with a laden burro by lamplight won a $1000 prize at the Salmagundi Club's annual exhibition in New York." (The C.R. Smith Collection of Western American Art, p. 140)
A composition similar to those that gained him renown, The Unbidden Guest depicts a moonlit scene of a frontiersman entering a house with the warm glow of an interior fire illuminating the window. Set against a dark yet luminous night sky, the composition displays Johnson's skillful rendering of night scenes and is reminiscent of Frederic Remington's great nocturnes. In this picture, Johnson adds tension through a subtle narrative that is further heightened by the restrained palette.