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Lester Johnson

(American, 1919-2010)



Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD

Carnegie Museum of ArtPittsburgh, PA

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture GardenWashington, DC.

Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN

Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of DesignProvidence, RI

Smithsonian American Art MuseumWashington, DC.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY

Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis, MN

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY


Lester Johnson was a member of the Second Generation of the New York School during the late 1950s. The subject of much of his work is the human figure. His style is considered by critics and art historians to be figurative expressionism.

Johnson was born in 1919 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. From 1942 to 1947 he attended Minneapolis School of Design, where he studied under Alexander Masley who was a former student of Hans Hofmann in Munich, Germany.

Johnson moved to New York City in 1947. His first studio and apartment was on 6th Street and Avenue A, where his neighbor was the painter Wolf Kahn. His next residence and workspace was a loft on St. Marks Place that he shared with Larry Rivers. In 1949, Johnson married Josephine Valenti, an art historian, and moved into a house on 2nd Ave and 2nd Street – which was shared with Wolf Kahn.  In 1961, he briefly left the city for an artist-in-residence position at Ohio State University. After returning to New York City, Johnson shared a studio with the painter Philip Pearlstein. He was invited by Abstract Expressionist painter Jack Tworkov to teach at Yale. He accepted and he and his wife, with their two children, Leslie and Anthony, moved to Milford, Connecticut, where he taught and continued to paint in a studio behind their house. Summers were spent in Springs, Long Island (where Lester and Jo bought property in 1955), throughout his time at Yale as well as after moving to Greenwich, Connecticut. Johnson lived briefly in Southampton, where he died in 2010.

In New York, Johnson exhibited at the Martha Jackson Gallery, Zabriskie Gallery, Gimpel & Weitzenhoffer, and James Goodman Gallery. He has also been exhibited at several museums, including group shows at the Solomon R. Guggenheim, The Whitney, Museum of Modern Art, and Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was elected a member to both the American Academy of Arts & Letters and National Academy of Design.

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