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Henry Francois Farny

 (1847 - 1916)
Henry Francois Farny was active/lived in Ohio, California / France.  Henry Farny is known for Indians, frontier life, illustrator, pottery decoration.

Henry Francois Farny

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Henry Francois Farny
Born in Alsace Lorraine, France, Henry Farny became a well-known American illustrator and painter, especially for quiet aspects of Indian life such as campfire scenes.  Farny, working in a highly realistic, detailed style, had a deep regard for Indians as individuals, and often depicted them in an harmonious environment.  Only a few of his paintings show Indians in dramatic action.  He particularly painted the Sioux Indians and, given the Indian name for "Long Boots", was adopted into their tribe.

His work reflected the late 19th and early turn-of-the century romanticizing of the American Indian in the West, but differed from the approach of Charles Russell and Frederic Remington who showed conflict between Indians and Whites.  Farny's primary theme was Indians living in peace amongst themselves during a period when their culture was dying out.  "He neither glorified nor denigrated it. . . .Because of his patient observation of the Indian way of life, much has been preserved which might otherwise have been lost." (Zellman 418)

His most prolific period was between 1890 and 1906, and most of his paintings were small in size, and finely finished.  His primary medium was gouache, although he also worked in watercolor, oil, and ink and did an occasional bronze sculpture.  In addition to his artwork of western subjects, he was the illustrator of McGuffey readers, the school textbooks that were standard in the public schools in the late 19th century.

As an adult in the prime of his career, he was a large man physically, over six feet tall, "broad shouldered, bulky in the waistline, an inveterate storyteller, renowned as an after-dinner speaker, a man with innumerable friends, alive with interest in life." (Taft 217).  Among his close friends were General Ulysses S. Grant, President Theodore Roosevelt and General Nelson Miles, and abroad he was recognized in 1889 with a medal at the Paris exhibition of 1889 for one of his Indian subjects.

Farny was the son of a political activist from France who, as a Republican, fled when Napoleon came to power.  At age 5, he settled with his family in the pine forests of western Pennsylvania at the headwaters of the Allegheny River, and lived closely and on friendly terms with the Seneca Indians.  In 1859, he and his family, traveling by raft down the river, moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Farny studied and did lithography including Civil War views that could be sold.  By the time he was eighteen, a two-page spread of Cincinnati by him was published in Harper's Weekly.

He lived in New York City for a short time in 1867, and earned illustration commissions from Harper's Weekly.   He decided he needed more art education, and from 1867 to 1870, studied in Europe, at one time sharing a studio in Munich with John Twachtman and Frank Duveneck, who remained a life-long friend.  He was also in Rome, Vienna, and Dusseldorf and to support himself, did many odd jobs for hire. 

In 1873, he returned to Europe, where at the Vienna Exposition he exhibited a 90-foot long cartoon, which he had created as a commission entry by the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.

He returned to illustration in Cincinnati, working for Cincinnati publishers and for Harper's Weekly and The Century, and from Cincinnati traveled widely in the West, making his first trip in 1888, traveling over a thousand miles by canoe on the Missouri River.  His interest had been piqued in 1881 with the news that Sitting Bull had surrendered at Fort Buford in Sioux Territory on July 19, having wandered with tribesmen since 1876 when the Indians had defeated General Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in South Dakota.  Farny, hoping to see and talk to Sitting Bull, traveled to the Sioux agency at Standing Rock where the Indian Chief was first confined.  However, by the time he arrived, Sitting Bull had been transferred to Fort Randall, but Farny found a wealth of Indian material for his sketches and subsequent paintings.  His decision to focus on Indian subjects was made.  He said:  The plains, the buttes, the whole country and its people are fuller of material for the artist than any country in Europe." (Taft 219)  

In 1883, he journeyed to Montana with the Northern Pacific Railroad on the excursion sponsored by Henry Villard, President of the Railroad.  The group with many dignitaries departed from St. Paul and as part of the trip witnessed the ceremony of the completion of the transcontinental line and the joining of the railway extensions near Missoula.  The celebration included the cornerstone commemoration of the territorial capital of Bismarck, and at this event, Farny finally got to meet Sitting Bull, who came with a group of Indians from the Standing Rock Agency sixty miles away.   Farny introduced Sitting Bull to General Ulysses Grant, and "the two eyed each other with respectful wonder." (Taft 221).  Both gave speeches with Sitting Bull using an interpreter.   After Bismarck, the group visited the Crow Reservation at Grey Cliff, Montana, and Farny made sketches which he converted into illustrations for Harper's Weekly.

In 1884, Farny along with writer Eugene Smalley went back to Montana on assignment for The Century Magazine.  They were hosted by a group of notables including the governor and then took a voyage down the Missouri River from Helena to Great Falls to Fort Benton---all depicted by Farny in the magazine article by Smalley.  From Fort Benton, they took a 200 mile stagecoach ride to connect with the railroad at Billings.

It is possible but unverified that Farny made other trips west to Indian territory, and there are sketches from the late 1880s indicating he went to California, but the details are unknown.

Farny also did numerous Indian portraits for The Century Magazine to accompany a series written by Frank Cushing about his life among the Zuni of New Mexico when he was on assignment from the Smithsonian Institution.  For these illustrations, Farny visited Cushing in Washington rather than in New Mexico because Cushing had brought about six Zuni head men with him to the nation's capital.

In 1894, he traveled with General Miles to Fort Sill, Oklahoma where Apaches with Geronimo, Kiowa and Comanche Indians were on reservation.  Farny did a portrait sketch of Geronimo, which the Indian chief signed.

After 1890, Farny discontinued illustration for popular magazines, and concentrated on easel painting, using for props the many items he had collected from his western travels.  "The accuracy and artist of his work combine to make him one of our major painters of the Old West." (Reed 54)  The first painting he finished after his initial trip West was Toilers of the Plains, depicting two squaws gathering firewood while their overseer walked with dignity and free of burden.  He also did a painting for the Paris Salon, The Sioux Women of the Burnt Plains, which stirred positive comment from Oscar Wilde, who was lecturing in Cincinnati.

The total number of Farny's western paintings is unknown.  The Cincinnati Museum in 1943 held an exhibition of his work that included 39 oil paintings and 104 watercolors.  At least twenty-four of the oils and seventy-one of the watercolors were Western.  For many viewers, work by Farny is admired for its authenticity and its ability to convey so much factual data about a critical time in America history---the opening of the West.

Robert Taft, Artists and Illustrators of the Old West, 1850-1900, pp. 212-225
Walt Reed, The Illustrator in America, 1860-2000, p. 54
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art, p. 418

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Henry Francois Farny
Born on July 15, 1847 in Ribeauville, Alsace, France. Due to the rise of the Napoleonic party, the Farny family decamped to the U.S. in 1853. During the six years in Pennsylvania, young Farny got to know the Seneca Indians which began his lifelong fascination with the various tribes. In 1859 he settled in Cincinnati and later worked in New York as an engraver and lithographer for Harper's. Farny spent three years in Europe in the 1860s during which time he studied in D├╝sseldorf under Thomas B. Read and Herman Herzog, and traveled about Europe on a study tour with Twachtman and Duveneck. In 1878 he made a thousand-mile canoe trip down the Missouri River. During the 1880s he made numerous sketching trips throughout the West and was active in California during 1885-1900. He became famous for his illustrations and paintings of Indian life. After being adopted by their tribe, the Sioux gave him the name "Long Boots" and the symbol of a circle enclosing a dot. This symbol often accompanies the signature on his paintings. At age 59 he married his 18 year-old ward, Ann Ray. Farny died in Cincinnati on Dec. 23, 1916. Exh: Paris Expo, 1889 (medal); Calif. Midwinter Int'l Expo, 1894. In: Cincinnati Museum; Taft Museum (Cincinnati).

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Artists of the American West (Doris Dawdy); Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers (Fielding, Mantle); American Western Art (Harmsen); The West As Art cat.

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery
Henry Farny was born in Alsace, France, the son of a political refugee who to emigrated to Pennsylvania when Henry was six years old. As a child, he enjoyed a friendly relationship with a nearby band of Senecas, which began his life-long fascination with Native Americans.

In 1859 Farny's family moved to Cincinnati where he later took his first job as an apprentice lithographer. By the time he was eighteen, Harper's Weekly has published a two-page view of Cincinnati that Farny had drawn. After briefly working for Harper's in New York, Farny decided he needed more advanced art training. In 1867 he traveled to the Royal Academy in Dusseldorf, Germany where he spent three years studying under Herman Hartzog and Thomas Read, and painting beside John Twachtman and Frank Duveneck.

Returning to Cincinnati in 1870, Farny resumed his illustration career working for local publishers as well as Harper's Weekly and Century magazines. Other illustration commissions ranged from such projects as circus posters to McGuffy's Eclectic Readers, the most widely used grade school texts of the 19th century.

In 1881 Farny learned that the great Lakota leader, Sitting Bull, had turned himself over to the US military and was being held at the Standing Rock Agency. Hoping to meet Sitting Bull and learn more about the Ghost Dance movement, Farny journeyed up the Missouri River to North Dakota, but arrived after Sitting Bull had been moved to Fort Randall. Nevertheless, Farny was enchanted with what he did find, and used the opportunity to make sketches and collect artifacts for use in his studio paintings back in Cincinnati. From this time on, he devoted much of his time to recording scenes of Plains Indian life.

Farny made his next Western trip in 1883 to illustrate a Century magazine article about the completion Northern Pacific Railroad's transcontinental line. Part of the celebration included ceremonies at the new territorial capital at Bismarck where he finally met Sitting Bull who delivered an address through an interpreter. Continuing west on the railroad with a group of dignitaries including Ulysses S.Grant, Farny sketched views of the Crow Reservation at Grey Cliff, Montana Territory which also became illustrations for Century.

Subsequent Western projects included views of a trip down the Missouri River from Helena, Montana to Fort Benton, and portraits of Zuni leaders for articles about the Pueblo by the famed anthropologist, Frank Cushing, both for Century magazine. Although Farny drew the Zuni portraits in Washington, D.C. when his subjects were visiting the Smithsonian Institution, he did travel to Fort Sill, Oklahoma Territory in 1894 at the invitation of General Nelson Miles to paint the Apaches being interned there. Among his most famous works from this trip is a watercolor sketch of Geronimo, signed by the famous chief.

After about 1890, Farny discontinued most illustration work in favor of easel paintings depicting the Plains Indians that he had met, lived with, and studied in the previous decade. Considering his training, it is no surprise that his work falls solidly within the romantic realist tradition of the late 19th century. His paintings-most commonly in gouache and transparent watercolor-are highly detailed representations of Native life free of negative effects of reservation living. Although his images are idealized in this way, they are not overtly romanticized or dramatized like those of most other "Indian Painters" of his and subsequent generations. His light is usually the strong, even light of day, not the exaggerated chiaroscuro effects of firelight and shadow. His poses are candid, not the result of stagecraft. Farny's goal was to preserve the details of a way of life he saw disappearing before his eyes.

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, II
Biography photo for Henry Francois Farny
In 1881, a young artist from Cincinnati named Henry Farny made a 1000-mile trip up the Missouri River to the Standing Rock Agency of the Sioux nation in the Dakota Territory.  He had hopes of meeting the great chief Sitting Bull and finding out more about the Ghost Dance movement, which had fascinated him when he first heard accounts of it.  Although Sitting Bull was no longer at the agency, Farny nevertheless came away deeply impressed with what he had seen.  He was quoted in a Cincinnati newspaper on his return as saying: "The plains, the buttes, the whole country and its people, are fuller with of material for the artist than any country in Europe."

He brought to his Cincinnati studio a number of artifacts, sketches, and photographs, which he proceeded to translate into his finished works.  In 1882-83 he furnished the illustrations for Frank H, Cushing's noted articles on the Zuni Indians, which appeared in Century magazine.  He also witnessed the ceremonies marking the completion of the Northern Pacific Railway, where he finally met Sitting Bull.

In 1884, he journeyed to the Montana Territory and went on a voyage down the Missouri River to historic Fort Benton, which before the days of the railroad had been the terminus of steamboat navigation.  He visited Fort Sill in the Oklahoma Territory in 1894 at the invitation of General Nelson A. Miles to record the remnants of the Apache and their notorious leader Geronimo.  Everywhere Farny traveled during this period, there was ample evidence that a great era of American history had passed.

After 1890, Farny's activity as an illustrator sharply decreased in favor of his efforts to produce more finished works for exhibition and sale.  His excellent artistic ability, which was widely recognized by his contemporaries, came to the fore very quickly in a number of major works.  Farny often worked on a small scale in watercolor or gouache.

The typical Farny style can be categorized by an almost photographic exactitude of detail, deliberate and precise modeling, and a static, carefully worked sense of composition.  Every detail is intensified by its clarity; every nuance of color is cool and sharp.  The alertness and stillness of Farny's scenes is almost palpable; the mood of expectation has been heightened by the artist's crackling realism.

Dr. Rick Stewart, The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier,  

Biography from Thomas Nygard Gallery
HENRY F. FARNY (1847-1916)

® Private collection, New York

Like many artists of this era, Farny had a background in fine art but found himself earning his bread executing illustrations for various publications.  What sets Farny apart from many other artists is the fact that he has shown that as an illustrator he can produce "fine art."

His first job came as an apprentice with a lithography firm is Cincinnati.  His family had located there in 1859 having moved from Alsace, France.  By 1865, Farny had his first illustrations in Harper's Weekly.  Determined to strengthen his artistic talents, he went to Europe in 1866 to study at the Dhsseldorf Academy.

Three years later he was back in Cincinnati resuming his work in illustration.  His art appeared on circus posters, illustrations for Guffey's Readers and a variety of other publications.  In wasn't until 1881, at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation of the Sioux, that he discovered the subject that was to hold his interest until his last days.  In the following thirteen years the artist made four more journeys West to gather material for his paintings.  In these three-month long periods he traveled through the plains and mountains, and ventured into the South and Northwest portions of the country gaining an intimate knowledge of the landscape and indigenous people of the West.

Back in Cincinnati he worked in his studio turning the photographs, sketches, and artifacts from these ventures into his Indian paintings.  Much of Farny's art depicts his subject in their natural nomadic setting and not on the reservations that they had been confined to.  It is a testament to the skill and imagination of the artist that the paintings have the "freshness" and the look of having been painted on the spot and not a sterile studio setting, where many of them were executed.  As well, Farny depicted the life of the Indians as exotic, idyllic, and free of poverty, disease or the malaise and doom that plagued them.  He was sympathetic, not overtly Romantic, in his attitude and approach to his subjects.  For these reasons, his paintings hold an important amount of anthropological information and tell of a life that has been permanently and irreparably changed. 

Biography from The Coeur d'Alene Art Auction
Biography photo for Henry Francois Farny
Henry Farny was born in Alsace, France. His parents fled to America, as political refugees, after the Napoleonic party came to power. They settled in Pennsylvania at the headwaters of the Allegheny River. Their home was near a Seneca Indian camp,and Farny's early encounters with the Seneca led to a lifelong interest in the Indian. The family moved to Cincinnati, where Henry found work as an apprentice lithographer.

By the age of eighteen, he had work published in "Harper's Weekly". The following year Farny went to Europe for three and a half years of study in Rome, Dusseldorf and Vienna. Returning to America, he worked as a book illustrator, revolutionizing the schoolbook industry when he salvaged the declining McGuffey Reader series with his illustrations.

Farny made numerous trips to the West, including in 1878 a thousand-mile canoe trip down the Missouri River and in 1893, a journey to Montana to attend cermonies marking completion of the Northern Pacific transcontinental railroad.

He was adopted by a tribe of Sioux Indians and named "Long Boots". Unlike the work of many early western artists, Henry Farny's paintings met with almost instant acclaim and quick sale. His repeated trips to Indian encampments resulted in the storytelling type of art that was so typical of the times.

Farny's miniature-like technique was void of the sensationalism which generally was the tool of the less accomplished artists of the day. Paintings by Henry Farny are "blue chip" in the art market; they have appreciated more in value per square inch than those of any other artist. Farny was a noted gourmet cook and after-dinner speaker. He could also speak French, German, Italian and Indian.

Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Carmel
Henry Francois Farny was born in Alsace, France, in 1847, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1853. His family settled briefly in Pennsylvania where Farny was introduced to the Seneca Tribe, beginning a life-long fascination with Native Americans.

In 1859 he again moved, this time to Cincinnati, where he is most associated. Farny was internationally known for his, usually small, non-dramatized paintings of Indian life.

Traveling frequently to the West, Farny was adopted in to the Sioux tribe before his death in Cincinnati in 1916.

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Biography photo for Henry Francois Farny
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About  Henry Francois Farny

Born:  1847 - Alsace Lorraine, France
Died:   1916 - Cincinnati, Ohio
Known for:  Indians, frontier life, illustrator, pottery decoration

Essays referring to
Henry Francois Farny

Paris pre-1900
Western Artists