Still life painting - Robert Johnson, "Roses and Tangerines," oil on linen, 16 x 20 in.
Robert Johnson, "Roses and Tangerines," oil on linen, 16 x 20 in.

Still Life of the Week: Roses and Tangerines by Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson was born in Hopewell, Virginia. His mother loved to paint and his older brother, Ben, was also a painter, who distinguished himself in in the field of art conservation and later established and served as the Director of Conservation for the Los Angeles County Museum. Ben later played a significant role as a mentor in Robert’s development as an artist.

Robert had an instinctive love for art from an early age. He also loved sports and attended Duke University on a football scholarship and later graduated from Duke Law School. Even though focused on academics and athletics, he kept his painting and drawing going in his private time. His love of art and drive to see the best art of Europe caused him to veer from the usual legal career path. He moved to Germany where lived for two years in a small German village, learned German, and travelled extensively see the best art in Europe while at the same time working privately on his own painting and drawing skills.

After returning to the US and several years of juggling the demands and conflicts of two diverging careers he sought the advice of Frank Wright, a prominent painter and instructor of Art at George Washington University. While Frank was critiquing Robert’s drawings, Robert asked, “From what you see, can I be a real artist like the ones in books, galleries and museums?”

Wright wisely replied: “I like your drawings. But you must realize that you will never know how good an artist you can be until art gets the very best within you…your primary attention, your highest energies, your best working time.”

The advice stuck. Soon thereafter Robert turned over his law practice to his partner and began an extended period of study at the Art Students League of NY where he studied painting with David Leffel and drawing with Robert Beverly Hale and Michael Burban.

Robert loved the painting tradition of the Art Students League and the wonderful opportunities to draw at all hours of the day and into the night. He also studied sculpture in the evenings with Barney Hodes. He later taught at the Art Students League and remains a life member.

Learn more about the artist and see more of his still life paintings at

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