When Johnson returned to the United States, he not only painted genre paintings but he also continued to paint portraits, which gave him a steady income. After 1880 Johnson turned to portraiture almost exclusively. During the 1880s and 1890s he painted businessmen, lawyers, university presidents, and three U.S. presidents from life. At times he also painted their wives and children.
He was also commissioned to paint posthumous portraits, often from photographs. These portraits by and large do not have the sparkle and active brushwork of those done from life. It seems that the demand for portraits of business and civic leaders (and members of exclusive men’s clubs) was so high that portrait painters would often make copies of each other’s paintings to satisfy the market for such images. In many instances, it has been difficult to render opinions for such paintings. —PH