These seven volumes of photographs illustrate a few of Johnson's earliest travels to Europe. Their composition makes evident that even when sightseeing Johnson could be nothing less than methodical. Comprised of what no doubt are professionally-taken images affixed to oversized pages that are bound between embossed leather covers, Johnson's photographic mementos are as grand as his journeys. In the set presumed to be the earliest, entitled "A Summer Trip," Johnson included an inscription in each of the three volumes that reveals his motive in assembling the picture books, which in turn adds an endearing charm to his efforts. The inscription, clearly in Johnson's hand, is addressed to his then bride of three years, and reads: "Ida P. Johnson/from her husband/in remembrance of a most happy summer." He dates his gift "Xmas 1878." Measuring either 6"x8" or 4"x6", most of the images are scenic views of European mountains, lakes and villages or cityscapes of cathedrals, palaces, museums, and opera houses, as well as architectural details of each. Under each image is a brief caption written by hand in a style that resembles Johnson's (particularly the Norway volume)--albeit more legible than his usual handwriting. Each image is also numbered sequentially throughout the multiple volume sets. For the 1878 trip, Johnson compiled 504 images. If he in fact did write each caption, it would be all the more remarkable a task considering the demanding schedule of his legal practice.
Less in number, yet notable, are the photographic reproductions of paintings included in these pictorial travelogues. Although Johnson did not identify the museums or estates housing the objects, that information can be inferred by the placement of the images following those of a particular city. Johnson's captions also document attributions and titles that in several cases have been revised since the last quarter of the nineteenth century. More than a decade later, Johnson published his thoughts on some of Europe's artists and art collections. A photocopy of the book is in the "Other subjects" series.
Based on the arrangement of the photographs, Johnson and his wife began their 1878 trip in Le Havre, France. From there, they traveled to Paris, Versailles, various villages and cities in Switzerland; then on to northern Italy, Austria and Germany; and at some point toward the end of the trip, Brussels (Belgium). Along the way, the Johnsons viewed art collections from the Louvre in Paris, Munich's Alte Pinakothek, the Wiertz Gallery in Brussels and the Old Masters' Picture Gallery in Dresden (Gemäldegalerie alte Meister; now part of the Dresden State Art Collections). Among the paintings Johnson included from Dresden was "Venus with Musician." At that time it was attributed to Titian. It has been lost since 1939. Images from the Palace of Versailles include Marie Antoinette's bed and Vincenzo Vela's marble depiction of "The Last Days of Napoleon," which is now housed at the Musée National du Château de Malmaison.
Assuming the three volumes entitled "Three Years Later" were intended as a follow up to the 1878 trip, the Johnsons returned to Europe in 1881. Images begin with seaside views of Brighton on England's southeastern coast, followed by various villages, spas and cities in Switzerland and Germany, on to the Netherlands and Brussel, and end in England with images of Shakespeare's home and Stoneleigh Park for a total of 524 photographs. The Johnsons also visited Prague, where they saw the Radetzky Memorial, which has since been transferred from its outdoor location to the National Museum. In 1881, the city was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. On this trip, Johnson returned to the Old Masters' Picture Gallery in Dresden, and devoted twenty pages of the second volume to a number of its paintings. Among the works of art from the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin reproduced in Johnson's picture books are panels depicting the Annunciation from the Ghent Altarpiece. Johnson also included images of paintings from Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, Haarlem's Frans Hals Museum and the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. Unlike the 1878 trip, Johnson's itinerary in 1881 included a number of stops throughout England, most of which are documented in the third volume. Among the sites visited were Windsor Castle and its royal collection and the National Gallery of Art in London. Johnson commemorated the latter with images of more than fifty paintings.
The single volume entitled "A Summer in Norway" is undated. According to the obituary of Johnson that appeared in the New York Times, he visited Norway a few years before his death in 1917. However, that the 195 primarily scenic images are as carefully arranged and captioned as the earlier volumes, it is likely that he prepared this volume for his wife. Therefore, this trip was likely taken before 1908, the year Ida died. The volume begins and ends with English settings from the Isle of Wight and district of Devon, respectively. Christiania (later renamed Oslo) and Bergen are among the Norwegian sites documented, and Stockholm, Sweden is the final Scandinavian stop.
Like souvenir postcards, the photographs in these seven volumes would have been available for Johnson to purchase en route. The series numbers and captions printed on many of the images confirm their commercial availability. On approximately half of the images, photographers also are identified; their names printed on a bottom border or affixed by dry stamp (embossed). Of those identified, most carry the stamp of "Frith's Series," referring to the business founded in 1859 by Francis Frith, a British photographer and publisher of scenic views throughout Europe, Egypt and the Middle East. As Frith hired photographers or purchased the works of others, it is possible that these images are not his own. In Johnson's collection, Frith's firm provided most of the photographs of France, (1878, Vol. 1), and of Matterhorn and Switzerland (1881 Vol. 1), as well as a few in the Italian areas of Lecco and Bellagio (1878, Vol. 2). Other photographers identified are: Giacomo Brogi (Milan and Como, 1878, Vol. 2); Fotografia Nessi Como (1878, Vol. 2); Oscar Kramer (1878, Vol. 2, as publisher; and apparently as photographer in 1878, Vol. 3. All Austrian scenes); A. F. Czihak (Austria, 1878, Vol. 3); Atelier Frankenstein & Co. (1878, Vol. 3); and Joh. (Johann) Hahn (city and interior church views in Nuremburg, 1881, Vol. 1). The studios that photographed some of the paintings Johnson included in his photo albums are: Piloty & Loehle (Alte Pinakothek, Munich, 1878, Vol. 3); Société Royale Belge de Photographie (Wiertz Gallery, Brussels, 1878, Vol. 3); and Photographische Gesellschaft, Berlin (Old Masters Picture Gallery, Dresden and Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, 1881, Vol. 2). The dry stamps to images 358 and 387 in 1878, Vol. 3, could not be deciphered at time of processing. No photographers are identified on any of the photographs of Norway.