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Johnson specialized in themes that recorded and idealized life before the advent of industrialism. His painting owes its appeal to the incorporation of the values of hard work, independence, honesty, and service to the community. In the Woodcutter, Johnson depicts an ordinary man, probably clearing land for his farm, as a heroic figure. The man's posture is upright, his eyes scan the horizon, and his mastery over his environment is symbolized by his axe and the manner in which he rests one foot on the stump of the felled tree. Johnson began his career as a successful portrait painter in 1842. Several years later, he acquired greater technical proficiency in Europe and upon his return to the United States began painting genre. The Woodcutter is a reflection of Johnson's early success as a portrait painter. Although his work was greatly admired by fellow artists, Johnson felt he could not earn a decent living painting genre, and in 1880 returned to portraiture.
height 31.25 in, width 27.25 in