The present work likely depicts an area near Frank Tenney Johnson’s summer home and studio at Rim Rock Ranch, west of Cody, Wyoming.
Frank Tenney Johnson’s unique and earnest take on frontier life earned him the reputation as one of the most celebrated artists of the American West. Long celebrated for his nocturnes, in Wyoming Cattlemen, Johnson presents a daytime scene that embodies all of the qualities for which his work is beloved. Employing a broad spectrum of colors, Johnson awards his canvas with blazing blues in the sky, deep brownish-reds and purples in the canyons and green grass surrounding the cowboys. At center, two cowboys survey the landscape in a moment of pause while at work. With its brilliant use of color, composition and form, Wyoming Cattlemen is a testament to Johnson’s unparalleled ability as a first-hand documenter of life in the West.
Johnson was first exposed to the painting of Western subjects by his studies with horse painter F.W. Heine and Western artist George Lorenz, who "encouraged Johnson to record the disappearing frontier." (R. Saunders, The C.R. Smith Collection of Western American Art, Austin, Texas, 1988, p. 142) This encouragement, coupled with later studies at the Art Students League in New York where he made the acquaintance of Robert Henri and William Merritt Chase, gave his art a unique mood. After school, Johnson gained commercial success and popularity after a lucrative illustration commission from Field and Stream brought him to Colorado, where he was "entranced by the desert community of the Southwest." (RD. Stewart, The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier, Dallas, Texas, 1986, p. 175)
As in Wyoming Cattlemen, Johnson imbues his subjects with honesty over fanfare. In 1923, one critic noted of Johnson’s authentic, timeless depictions: “Johnson knows the West of yesterday and the West of to-day. For him the plains are rich with ghosts of prairie schooners, Indians, pack animals, and all the dim figures of the passing West. Always in his work there is a poetic depth of memory, a thrill of that old and virile West he loved. He paints the West of to-day with the same rich, intangible hint of yesterday in the brilliant strokes of his brush…Magically on his canvas past and present mingle.” (D. Harrington, “Frank Tenney Johnson, Cow-Puncher Artist,” The Outlook, vol. 133, no. 14, April 4, 1923, p. 615)