Francis Hans (later Franz) Johnston, painter and illustrator, was born in Toronto in 1888. He studied at the Central Technical School in Toronto in 1906, at the Central Ontario School of Art and Design in Toronto in 1908 and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1912.
He worked as commercial artist in Toronto and New York from 1908 to 1917.
Johnston’s relationship with the artists of the Group of Seven dated back to 1908, when he met Tom Thomson and J.E.H. MacDonald at the commercial art firm of Grip Limited, in Toronto. In 1915, he was commissioned by the Canadian War Memorial Fund and produced 73 paintings recording the activities of the Royal Air Force in Canada. Although Johnston accompanied the future Group artists on sketching trips to the Algoma region after the war and shared their passion for painting the Canadian landscape – especially the effects of light on ice and snow in the Arctic and the Northwest Territories – he preferred to pursue a path of his own, separate from group affiliations.
In 1921, Johnston moved to Manitoba for two years to become principal of the Winnipeg School of Art. He was also the curator of the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1921-24. He taught at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg in 1922 and at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto in 1928-30. He founded and directed an art school in Georgian Bay in Ontario between 1930 and 1940. In the summers, he enjoyed painting at nearby Lake of the Woods.
He died in Toronto in 1949.
He travelled and painted extensively in Ontario and Quebec, in the Rocky Montains in 1924 and 1927, in Great Bear Lake and Coronation Gulf, N.W.T. in 1939.
Johnston simplifies the forms of nature with a characteristically muted palette, creating a poetic and lyrical effect that distinguishes his work form the images of rugged wilderness usually associated with the Group of Seven.
In 1921 was his first and only participation in a Group of Seven exhibition,
Source: Anne Newlands, Canadian art from its beginnings to 2000, Firefly, 2000 ; Catalogue of the National Gallery of Canada, Canadian art, volume two/G-K, Ottawa, 1994