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John Fery

 (1859 - 1934)
John Fery was active/lived in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Montana / Hungary.  John Fery is known for western panoramic landscape painting, cycloramas, promotional painting.

John Fery

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for John Fery
The following biography is submitted and written by Larry Len Peterson, author of John Fery: Artist of Glacier National Park & The American West

Johann Nepomuk Levy--John Fery's name before he Americanized it--was born in Strasswalchen, Austria on March 25, 1859 to Hungarians Jahn and Mary Levy. Jahn was temporarily working for the railroad but soon returned to his wife's prosperous family farm near Pressburg, Hungary. Johann's idyllic childhood filled with painting, hunting, and hiking came to an end in his teenage years when both parents died unexpectedly. An inheritance allowed him to attend the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts where he studied many art styles including Realism, Romanticism, and Impressionism. Further formal training was obtained at the prestigious Munich Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the Dusseldorf Academy.  

As did many other European artists, Johann immigrated to the United States to seek the opportunities that the "American Dream" promised. A short time after his arrival in 1883, the young artist changed his name to John Fery.  He soon found work in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, "the German Athens," where a number of German immigrant artists were hired to work on giant panorama paintings. Fery along with others was assigned to paint the landscape for the cyclorama Battle of Missionary Ridge (1883-1884).  Many of these works were hundreds of feet long and weighed several tons.  They traveled by train to cities all over the country captivating adoring audiences. 

With a new name and career, Fery headed back to Europe in 1884 to marry Parisian Mary Rose Kraemer (1862-1930). After living near Lake Ammersee outside Munich where their first child, daughter Fiametta was born, the couple headed back to the United States and explored the Hudson River Valley in eastern New York. This gave him an opportunity to study the works of Bierstadt, Hill, and Moran, among others.

In 1890 they relocated to booming Duluth, Minnesota to work on a mural for the Fitger Brewing Company.  It was there that Louis Hill first saw Fery's work. But Fery dreamed of exploring the Rockies, and in 1891 he rode the Northern Pacific Railway to Yellowstone National Park and eventually all the way to Seattle.  During the trip, he sketched, painted, and photographed the awe inspiring beauty of the American West.  However, two years later a depression hit America which made the prospects for living off an artist's income impossible. Showing "Yankee ingenuity," in 1893 and 1895 Fery morphed into a hunting guide and toured groups of wealthy Europeans throughout the West.

Louis Hill noted from afar the rising fame of Fery who was considered an outstanding landscape artist with the physicality to hike, climb, and camp in formidable terrain. As the economy improved, Fery found steady work back in Milwaukee, a setting where the family felt most comfortable.  

Through the tireless efforts of George Bird Grinnell (1849-1938) and others, The "Alps of North America" in northwestern Montana was designated as Glacier National Park in 1910. Louis W. Hill became obsessed with developing the park into a premiere world destination, which could be conveniently accessed by his Great Northern Railway. Fery was given the daunting task of producing hundreds of large paintings from 1910 to 1913 that could be distributed throughout America and around the world to attract tourists to the park. His work found its way to the walls of train depots, hotels, ships, travel agencies, colleges, and other institutions. It seemed Fery's art was everywhere. 

In addition, Fery's paintings were found in the chalets and lodges that the Great Northern built mainly between 1910 and 1915. Although he was paid less than forty dollars a painting, Fery was almost maniacal in his work. He created a new painting every few days. Early on in their time in Glacier, the Fery family was neighbors of Charlie and Nancy Russell (1878-1940) who had a summer retreat, Bull Head Lodge, on Lake McDonald in western Glacier National Park.  A number of Fery paintings survive that were painted near Bull Head Lodge.

Moving on, in 1915 John Fery traveled to San Francisco to take in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition where artist's works from all over the world--including a number of Fery's Glacier Park oils--were on display. Louis Hill who had a vacation home south of the Bay area helped Fery obtain commissions from the Southern Pacific Railway. The work took him to Yosemite National Park; Lake Tahoe; Central and Southern California; and Arizona.

In 1916 Fery headed to Portland, Oregon where he completed a large mural for Charles "Sam" Jackson (1860-1924), owner of the Oregon Journal, in the Jackson Tower building in downtown Portland. Fery also painted landscapes of the Oregon Coast, Columbia River, and Cascade Mountains.

Later in 1916 John and Mary Fery moved to Spokane to be closer to family since both son Carl and daughter Lucienne were living in eastern Washington State. Frequent trips were made to northern and southern Idaho to paint the magnificent lakes and mountains of the area. In time, Lucienne moved with her husband to Salt Lake City, and eventually they were followed there by her parents. John Fery had his art displayed in several local art stores while he ventured to the Southern Utah canyon country of Zion and Bryce to capture their magnificence on canvas. 

By 1923 the Ferys were living back in Milwaukee.  John would soon turn sixty-five years old. 

In 1925 Louis Hill once again called on his favorite landscape artist to return to Glacier. Hill went into high gear promoting the park with an array of artists including Oliver Grover (1861-1927), Elsa Jemne (1888-1974), Kathryn Leighton (1875-1952), Adolph Heinze (1887-1958), Joe Scheuerle (1873-1948), and Winold Reiss (1888-1953).

Fery's agreement with the Great Northern Railway was similar to the original one way back in 1910.  He would be paid $200 every month to produce four to six canvases. Especially important to Hill was sending Fery to Wateron Lakes National Park in Canada, just north of Glacier, to paint the area around the newly constructed Princes of Wales Hotel (1927).

In 1929 the Ferys moved to Orcas Island, Washington northwest of Seattle to be closer to family.  John was working out of a studio next to the home of his daughter Fiametta and her husband, F. Carl Lange, when a fire destroyed the studio and all its contents.  Many of his paintings that he was finishing for the Great Northern were destroyed, much to the consternation of the railway. 

The stock market crash and subsequent Depression made Fery's work prospects grim. To make matters worse, Louis Hill stepped down as chairman of the board of the Great Northern. The artist's biggest supporter was now gone. 

From 1925 to 1930, Fery completed approximately seventy-five paintings for the railway. It would be his last major commission. John kept a studio in Everett, Washington until his death on September 10, 1934. 
John Fery's art has been featured in many exhibitions and catalogs over the years including: Milwaukee Public Library (1974); Boise Art Gallery (1975); the Iron Horse exhibition and catalog at the Minnesota Museum of Art (1976); The Burlington Northern Collection catalog (1982); Mountain Majesty: The Art of John Fery catalog and exhibition sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. William P. Healey, and Mr. and Mrs. John B. Fery held at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson Hole, Wyoming (1998), C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, Montana (1998), and Boise Art Museum, Idaho (1999); John Fery: Artist of the Rockies, catalog and exhibition at the Hockaday Museum in Kalispell (2010); and Painting the Wilderness: John Fery and Contemporaries exhibition at the Wildling Museum in Solvang, California near Santa Barbara (2014), among others.

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for John Fery
Born in Austria, John Fery earned a strong reputation for dramatic paintings of western mountain landscape in the United States.  Glacier National Park in northwest Montana was a popular subject for him.

He was raised in a prominent, wealthy family that lived on an estate about nineteen miles northeast of Salzburg.  His mother was Hungarian, and his father was born in Bohemia. S ome sources have written that he studied art in Dusseldorf, Germany with Peter Jansen, and also in Munich, Venice and Karlsruhe.  But his "name does not appear in the records of the major art schools in any of these places, nor is there any record of his name at either the Vienna or Budapest academies." (Merrill 26)  It is possible, however, that he received private instruction, and because of the sophistication of his painting, sources think it unlikely that he was self taught.

An early interest in wilderness scenery led him to painting American landscapes and hunting scenes.  In the mid 1880s, he came to America and lived in the German community in Milwaukee, and then in 1886, brought his family to the United States. His wife, Mary Rose Kraemer (1862-1940), was born in Switzerland, and they had one child born near Munich and two others born in the United States.  From 1886 to 1888, they lived in New York, and by 1890, Fery had made his first trip West.

He visited Yellowstone Park in 1891, and indicated in his writings that he had been there even earlier.  From 1892 to 1893, he led European nobility on hunting expeditions to the American Northwest, made possible by the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad.  The group's itinerary included Lake Michigan, Arizona with the Grand Canyon, New Mexico, California, Oregon and Wyoming.  In 1895, he led a second expedition, and these ventures launched his career as a painter of the American West.

During the late 1890s, he lived with his family in a cabin near Jackson Lake, Wyoming, but by 1900 was in Duluth, Minnesota, where he and Austrian-born painter Feodor von Luerzer painted mural decorations for the Fitger Brewery tap room.  (In 1914, the murals were moved to the Pickwick Restaurant in Duluth, where they remained for many years).

By 1903, Fery was in Milwaukee where he stayed until 1911, when he moved to St. Paul, Minnesota until 1918.  His greatest patron became Louis Hill, owner of the Great Northern Railway and a resident of St. Paul.  Hill commissioned Fery to paint scenes of Glacier Park and other scenic landscapes for placement in their hotels and railroad stations.  Over the years the Railroad purchased a total of 362 works, and many of these paintings were large-scale, panoramas.

In 1914, after several years of painting in Glacier Park, Fery did a series of about twelve oil paintings of Yellowstone for advertising purposes for the Northern Pacific Railroad.

Itinerant, Fery seems never to have settled in one place for very long.  From 1919 to 1923, he was living in Salt Lake City, Utah where he painted many landscapes, especially of Zion Canyon.  Then he returned to Milwaukee until 1929, when he moved to Orcas Island near Bellingham, Washington.  That same year a fire took all his possessions including thousands of sketches and many paintings.  After that he moved to Everett, Washington where he died five years later.

About 150 of his paintings have been found after his death, and the largest group are of Glacier National Park, but some are from California, Arizona and New Mexico and Wisconsin.  One is from Venice, Italy and one from Bavaria.  Most of the paintings are in private collections but the Burlington Northern Railway, successor to the Great Northern Railway, has work by Fery in the collection as does the Church of the Latter Day Saints Museum in Salt Lake City.  In 1974, an exhibition of his work was held at the Milwaukee Public Library, and in 1975 at the Boise Gallery of Art in Boise, Idaho.

Peter Merrill, German American Artists in Early Milwaukee
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art
Peter Hassrick, Drawn to Yellowstone

Biography from Manitou Galleries
John Fery was born in 1859 into a prominent and wealthy Austrian family, and grew up on his father's estate, located between Linz and Salzburg.  He studied art in Vienna with Gripenkerl, in Dusseldorf with Peter Jansen, and in Karlsruhe with Schwenlehr.

Fery also studied in Munich.  He declined a permanent position at the famous Dusseldorf Academy, preferring to come to the United States to practice his art and to follow his interest in wilderness scenery.

Fery came to America in 1886 and he lived on the Eastern seaboard for about five years.  He quickly established himself as a successful painter of American landscape and hunting scenes, living for several years at Lake George and in the Catskill Mountain region, and later in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and New Jersey.  Around 1890 he returned briefly to Europe.

It appears that the result of his return to Europe was the organization of a hunting party led by Fery, which spent the years 1892 and 1893 traveling through the Midwest and far West United States in search of wilderness scenery and wild game.  An undated article from the Milwaukee Journal provides a glimpse of the tour: "John Fery, a native of Hungary(sic), and as such a sportsman of the word's best meaning, conceived the idea, of organizing a party of lovers of the chase, selected form the European gentry and members of the aristocracy, for hunting trip in the virgin hunting grounds of the Northern Rockies of America, which the completion of the Northern Pacific (Railroad) had brought into the lime-light of European notice at that time.  A call issued to that effect by Mr. Fery in Hunter's Journals was soon answered by Count Bleuchar, by Count Zepplin, Harry Meisenback, inventor of the half-tone process, and four other persons who together with Mr. Fery made up a party of eight huntsmen and started for the U.S. in 1893."

The itinerary of the group included Lake Michigan, New Mexico, Arizona, the Grand Canyon of Colorado, California, Oregon and Wyoming.  Fery published an article recounting his experiences in the European Hunter's Journal under the title "Eine Jagt in Wyoming."  He led a second expedition to the West in 1895, and these adventures were the beginning of his career as a painter of the Western landscape.

Fery's greatest patron was the Great Northern Railroad.  He was commissioned to do paintings of the scenery along the railroad's route through the West, particularly in Glacier National Park. He was an important artistic stimulant in the creation of Glacier National Park, just as Moran had been earlier in the creation of Yellowstone National Park and Grand Canyon of the Colorado Park.

Fery died in Everett, Washington in 1934.

Many of Fery's paintings were on a grand scale, as large as 10 by 12 feet in size, but his smaller works are still sought by collectors for their vivid rendering of the Western landscape.

Biography from Braarud Fine Art
Born in Austria in 1859, John Fery studied art in Vienna, Düsseldorf, and Munich. He conducted hunting expeditions to the Pacific Northwest for wealthy Europeans before settling in the United States in 1886. He lived for various lengths of time in Arizona, California, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin.

While traveling and painting in the Rocky Mountains, Fery impressed members of the Hill family, developers of the Great Northern Railway Company, who hired him to paint pictures dramatizing the beauties of the region. Many of the more than three-hundred works he completed hung in station houses, hotels, and lodges served by the railroad.

The Great Northern Railway Company was not only an important patron for Fery and other artists, but as has been noted by William Gerdts in Art Across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting 1710-1920 and others, its stations and hotels served in a real sense as the first "art galleries" in the West, at a time before traditional art institutions were even envisioned in the region.

Since that time, arts institutions in the West have grown in number and prominence. Among the many holding examples of Fery's work are the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyoming, the Charles M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana, the Boise Art Museum, and the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle.

Fery settled on Orcas Island, Washington in 1929, only to see his studio and much of his work destroyed the same year by fire. He died in Everett, Washington in 1934.

Biography from Thomas Nygard Gallery
John Fery (1859-1934)

John Fery was born in 1859 in Hungary to an aristocratic family. From what little is known about his life, scholars have determined that Fery studied in Europe before coming to the United States. He spent time under Peter Jansen at the famed Dusseldorf Academy in Germany.

His transition to the U.S. was gradual at first. Initially he led European nobility on hunting trips throughout the Northwest. It was during these trips between 1892 and 1893 that he first painted the landscape of the American West.

Fery exhibited at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1983; Everett Drama League, 1930, 1931; Regional Painters of Puget Sound, 1870-1920, Museum of History and Industry, Seattle, Washington, 1986.

In about 1900, Fery worked in Utah painting "many large oils of the natural wonders of the West." He lived and worked in many western locations, some which were Minnesota, Arizona, Washington, Oregon and California.

One of Fery's more important contributions is that he aided in the creation of Glacier National Park through his paintings. Commissioned by the Great Northern Railroad, he painted the scenery along its route and in Glacier National Park in order to help attract people and attention to that area. He also worked for the Oregon Journal contributing many wonderful pieces to that publication.

John Fery died at the age of seventy-five in Everett, Washington.

Biography from Kramer Gallery, Inc.
A prolific artist of expansive mountain views and Western wildlife, John Fery studied art in the academies of Vienna, Munich, and Dusseldorf before coming to Milwaukee in 1883. There he worked briefly as a panorama painter before returning to Germany. Fery came back to the United States, where he traveled and painted in the western states during the following decade.

At the invitation of Louis W. Hill, president of the Great Northern Railway, Fery painted over 300 vistas of mountain scenery along the road's tracks across Montana. His paintings of the mountains, lakes, and wildlife of Glacier National Park, some approaching billboard size, are Fery's most famous and characteristic work.. Fery's purple-tinged palette and broad, thick brushstrokes are as distinctive as his concentration on Rocky Mountain views and wildlife.

Written and submitted by Thomas O'Sullivan, museum curator and freelance writer.

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About  John Fery

Born:  1859 - Strasswalchen, Austria
Died:   1934 - Everett, Washington
Known for:  western panoramic landscape painting, cycloramas, promotional painting