Johnson was born in London of Dutch parents. He called himself Johnson or Jonson van Ceulen (Cologne). Later variants of his name include Jansen or Janssens. He probably trained in Holland, returning to London in about 1618. He was one of the foremost portrait painters in England until Van Dyck arrived in 1632. After the start of the Civil War, Jonson retired to Holland, where he died. His son of the same name was also a portrait painter.