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 John La Farge  (1835 - 1910)

/ lah FARZH/
About: John La Farge
 

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Lived/Active: New York/Rhode Island      Known for: Stained glass design, mural and floral still life painting

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John La Farge
from Auction House Records.
Paradise Valley
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
His works are at:
Brown University--Maddock Alumni Center:
ACCESS RESTRICTED. APPOINTMENT REQUIRED
1. The former residence of Colonel William Goddard, who commissioned La Farge in 1881 to design decorative windows for his newly renovated home. The opalescent windows were completed in 1882.

Cathedral of St. John, Episcopal, Providence:
1.  Designed a window located at the rear of the church, in the library. The window depicts the Wise Virgin (ca. 1882)

Channing Memorial Church, Newport:
1. Designed two memorial stained glass windows

Christ Episcopal Church, Lincoln:
1. The windows  of the church were designed by five different studios over eighty years. Three windows in the sanctuary are designed by LaFarge. One is of a figure in armor (ca. 1878) ;  the second is a Madonna and Christ child ; and the third is an image of a richly garbed gentleman standing in a Gothic arched niche.

Church of the Blessed Sacrament, Providence:
1. Designed the rose window, and six individual arched windows, four of which have full figures refered to as "The Adoring Angels" (ca. 1899)

David Winton Bell Gallery:
ACCESS RESTRICTED. APPOINTMENT REQUIRED
1. Watercolor/gouache/graphite [untitled]--study for staircase window of Maddock Alumni Center

Historic Cemetery, Newport:
1.  Sepulchral Monument (designed in collaboration with Augustus Saint-Gaudens) (1876-1878)

Newport Art Museum:
ACCESS RESTRICTED. APPOINTMENT REQUIRED
1. Watercolor/pencil, "Nude Woman with a Mirror" (1860) (acc.# 990.004)
2. Watercolor/pencil, "The Angel of Help" (ca. 1888-89) (acc.# 991.001)
3. Stained glass, "Trompe L'Oeil Curtain" (1884)--This piece is one of a matching pair of windows executed for the home of Judge Gregory Grover, Canton, MA. The matching panel is in the collection of the Penn. Academy of Fine Arts.
4. Watercolor/pencil, "Mater Dolorosa" (1904)--This is a study for one of the stained glass windows in Judson Memorial Church, Washington Square, N.Y.C.

Newport Congregational Church:
1. Windows and full interior mural decoration, incorporating oriental inspired designs (ca. 1880)--the windows were badly damaged by a storm in 1894 and poorly repaired by a lower bidding firm to La Farge at the time. Then in 1962, the wall areas LaFarge had originally painted deep olive green were painted over in bright blue. Steps are now being taken to gradually restore the church to original design.

PSNC:
Building location: 424 Bellevue Ave.
ACCESS RESTRICTED. APPOINTMENT REQUIRED
1. 19th c. Mahogany breakfront bookcase--designed by La Farge (acc.# PSNC.7370)
2. Wood engraving, "Fisherman and the Afrite" or, "The Genie" (1868) (acc.# PSNC3484
3. Engraving, "Midsummer's Eve" (1870) (acc.# PSNC.3486)
4. Engraving, "The Giant" (1869) (acc.# PSNC.3485)
5. Engraving, "The Pied Piper of Hamelin Town" (1869) (acc.# PSNC.3483)
6. Engraving, "The Wolf Charmer" (1867) (acc.# PSNC.3482)
7. Watercolor [untitled]--study of flowers for embroidery (white camelia with foliage against a red background) (1860) (acc.# PSNC.3752)
8. Woodblock print [untitled]--landscape of a Chinese inspired garden pavilion with two female figures by a fence (very likely portraits of his sisters Emily and Louisa). Executed to illustrate a story published in the Riverside Magazine (1868) (acc.# PSNC.3680)
9. Sketchbook from the Paradise period, 1861-1864; comprising 72 double sided pages with 82 pencil images or annotations (Stored in Archives) (acc.# PSNC.7692)

Building location: The Breakers
10. Glass Skylight--three square green and white opalescent glass panels accented with faceted glass jewels: on design of doubled white diamonds and arabesque vegetable forms. Originally designed for the dining room of 1 West 57th St. (1882) Removed 1893 and re-worked with guilloche border by Francis Larthrop (ex-collaborator of La Farge) for the staircase hall of The Breakers (1895).

Redwood Library:
ACCESS RESTRICTED. APPONTMENT REQUIRED
1. Pencil portrait on paper, "John Bancroft" (1863) (acc.# RLC.PAP.MISC.088)
2. Pencil portrait on paper, "Thomas Sergeant Perry" (1865) (acc.# RLC.PAP.MISC.087)

RISD:
ACCESS RESTRICTED. APPOINTMENT REQUIRED
1. Oil painting, "The Great Pali, Hawaiian Islands" (1890) (acc.# 20.397)
2. Pencil/pen/ink drawing, "Study of Figure of St. Paul"(mid 19th-early 20th c.) (acc.# 20.1007)
3. Watercolor/tempera, "Japanese Crackle Pottery with Camellias" (acc.# 21.469)
4. Watercolor, "Study of a Figure" (1897) (acc.# 42.066)
5. Watercolor/gouache/pencil, "Christ and the Woman of Samaria at the Well" (1903) (acc.# 84.160)
6. Charcoal/chalk, "Drawing after Gericault's The Barbieri Horses" (1854) (acc.# 1991.039)
7. Graphite drawing, "Edge of the Aorai Mountain, Tahiti" (1891) (acc.# 1995.047)
8. Watercolor, "Island of Moorea from Tahiti: Early Morning Study" (mid 19th-early 20th c.) (acc.# 1995.049)
9. Watercolor drawing, "Study" (acc.# D20.405)
10. Watercolor drawing, "Study for Angels in Ascension of Christ" (acc.# D20.406)
11. Watercolor drawing, "Study for St. John in Ascension of Christ" (acc.# D20.918)

Source:
Unveiled: a directory and guide to 19th century born artists active in Rhode Island, and where to find their work in publicly accessible Rhode Island collections
by Elinor L. Nacheman


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is submitted by Cornelia Seckel, publisher ART TIMES

John LaFarge at Hudson River Museum

By RAYMOND J. STEINER
ART TIMES December 1990

SHOULD STAINED GLASS be what comes to mind when John LaFarge is mentioned, a visit to an exhibit of his works on paper* might be well worth the trip. Though it is true that he was known for his works in glassin fact creating innovative blending and layering of different opalescent colors within a single sheet for an astonishing variety of effectshe turned out an enormous amount of work during his lifetime which included sculpture, paintings, drawings, watercolors, photographs, wood engravings, illustrations, murals and architectural designs. Even concentrating on his drawings and watercolors as it does, the present exhibit includes over 150 works which range from his student days (1856) to his latest years (1903).

Equally as surprising as his range of mediums, is La Farge's range of subject matterhe appears to have had a voracious creative appetite, applying his considerable talents to as many different projects as possible. Far from the narrow specialist of today, he was a genuine example of what was once known as a "renaissance man."

Those selections from his early days included in the show (The Crucifixion of St. Peter, Head of a Boy, etc.), reveal a strong academic taste and grounding. And, although it had prepared him with a substantial basis in sound draftsmanship, one could hardly say that he was bound by academicism in his later life.  LaFarge, as can be gathered above, was nothing if not experimental.  Often overlooked in the assessment of the man, LaFarge was painting en plein air before the Impressionists "invented" the method, had traveled and painted in Tahiti and the South Seas a year before the idea occurred to Gauguin, had incorporated "Japonisme" into his work before it became fashionable in Paris and, in fact, introduced elements of psychology (and physiology!) into art criticismjust one more activity he felt inclined to dabble in.

As tightly drawn as may be his pencil drawings and studies for design and decoration, we get some idea of a looser style in his landscape watercolors, especially those from the South Sea "period" (1890-1891).  He is strongest, however, in his figural studies and, when they are included in his landscapes, it is the figure which dominates the composition. Even in his "pure" landscapes, it is when he places some bit of foliage or detail in the foreground that his pictures come alive. It is, in fact, detail and its precise rendering, undoubtedly a carry-over from his early training, that might be considered his "trademark." Thus, his design for a memorial window, Angel Sealing the Servant of God, or Seated Woman (another window design) reveal a loving eye for line ala Ingres or Degas.

Just as strong as his control of line, is his sense of color and design, surely the basis of his popularity as a decorative designer and stained glass artist. It was in his constant application of all that he learned, in as many mediums as he could command, in the profusion of figures, flowers, landscapes and architectural details that he turned his hand to, that made LaFarge the consummate artist he was. What is impressive is how often he was more than just competent, often attaining a delicacy of tone or color that is breathtaking.

It is good that we have such an institution as The Hudson River Museum, small enough to concentrate on a specific aspect of a single artist and independent enough to devote their space to a scholarly (rather than a "popular") exhibition. Such an intimateand importantinsight into an artist is pricelessand the accompanying catalogue (with an Introduction by Barbara Bloemink) by James L. Yarnall, who also authored the Catalogue Raisonné of John LaFarge, a further testament to a fine combination of beauty and scholarship.

Whether you must travel up, down or across to the Hudson, this is an exhibition you shouldn't miss.

*"John LaFarge: Watercolors and Drawings." The Hudson River Museum of Westchester, 511 Warburton Ave., Yonkers, New York. (Oct 28-Jan 6, 1991). Thence, The Munson-Williams-Proctor Inst, Utica, NY (Feb 23-Apr 21, 91) and The Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, IL (Jun 15-Aug 11, 91).


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
John LaFarge was born in New York City in March 1935 of French descent and Roman Catholic background which was unusual at the time.  He graduated from Mount St. Mary's College in Maryland.  His ties with France were strengthened by a lengthy European grand tour following his graduation from college; he was much impressed by the stained glass in the medieval architecture.  In Paris, he studied with Thomas Couture and with Ruskin, who focused on the importance of art being morally and spiritually uplifting.

Shortly after he returned to the United States, LaFarge abandoned the study of law and moved to Newport, Rhode Island to study painting with William Morris Hunt.  His influences were the Japanese prints, found in abundant number in his parents' home and the flower paintings of Fantin-Latour.  He also painted landscapes with some little success.  But not much in sales, and he abruptly shifted his attention to decorative work, winning commissions for murals and painted decorations for churches and buildings.  It set a new direction in American art and initiated the movement now known as the American Renaissance.

It was through his involvement with decorative art LaFarge produced his most original achievement, the invention of opalescent stained glass.  He employed a jumble of contrasting textures, colors and materials unlike any that had been used in stained glass before.  By the 1880s he had become a well-known figure in the New York social world as well as an artist very much in demand.  The pressure of work exacted its toll on his personal relationships. His life became divided between a bohemian existence in New York City and a proper Catholic household in Newport where his wife brought up their six children.  He was involved with a law suit against Louis Tiffany when his wife gave birth to their youngest child, and he had not known of her pregnancy.

In 1886, he escaped from his responsibilities with a trip to Japan with Henry Adams; a stay that, though brief, colored his work for the remainder of his career.  In 1890 and 1891 they traveled to the South Seas.  In the space of roughly a year there he created several hundred watercolors which he exhibited in New York City in 1895.  He also started writing in earnest, completing eight books and publishing several dozen essays.  His last creation was a memoir of his friend Winslow Homer, which he wrote on his own deathbed and which was not published until after he died.

Even La Farge's appearance was exotic, for he had dark olive skin and heavily lidded eyes of an Oriental cast.  His cultural, quizzical, reflective approach and his quiet, indirect speech were far from stuffy, and he was fond of limericks, gently malicious gossip and fat cigars.  His cultural background, his artistic attitudes and his intensely refined sensibility were in many respects at odds with the dominant tendencies of American life.  Yet no other artist of the 19th century so enriched American culture and none so inventively transformed an enormous range of media.


Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources include:
Henry Adams in Architectural Digest or Smithsonian
From the internet, AskART.com

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born and raised in New York City in a cultured French family, John LaFarge became a leading figure in the arts in New York in the late 19th century, known for his exquisite murals, stained glass designs, and innovations of technique.  He also was a noted writer and lecturer on art.

He graduated from Mount St. Mary's College in Maryland and then went to Europe where he was much impressed by the stain glass in the medieval architecture.  In Paris, he studied with Thomas Couture, and in London, he was much influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites led by John Ruskin, who focused on the importance of art being morally and spiritually uplifting.

Returning to the United States in 1858, he studied with William M. Hunt at Newport Rhode Island.  In 1874, he completed his first window commission, and unlike other stained glass artists, executed the work himself rather than having artisans do the labor. I n the process of working, he discovered layering of two or more pieces of glass, rather than painting on it, and thus became the inventor of opalescent glass, which he patented in 1880.  Many of his designs of this period including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt, depicted peonies blowing in the wind.  He later reworked some of these designs in leaded glass.

In 1876, he painted murals for Trinity Church Boston, and this job was followed by other mural commissions.  In 1886, he and friends Henry James and Henry Adams traveled to Japan, and from this experience he adopted many Oriental motifs into his work.


Source:
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art


Biography from Questroyal Fine Art, LLC:
Born in New York City in 1835 into a wealthy, cosmopolitan family of French descent, La Farge’s intellectual curiosity and artistic proclivity was fostered from an early age. As a child he took drawing lessons with his grandfather, a miniature painter, and studied with an English watercolorist during grammar school. He later studied painting under Régis Francois Gignoux after receiving his degree from Saint John’s College and Mount Saint Mary’s University. Although La Farge’s father had aspirations for him to become a lawyer, he decided to pursue art after a trip abroad to Europe from 1856-1857. La Farge studied briefly in the studio of Thomas Couture but preferred independent study by observing and copying Old Master drawings. Upon his return to the United States, he married Margaret Mason Perry and moved to Newport, RI, where he worked with the artist William Morris Hunt and lived until 1879.

During the 1860s and 70s La Farge mainly painted landscapes en plein air and experimented with still-life in his studio. He additionally worked as an illustrator for books and magazines and began lecturing on art at Harvard University. In 1876, La Farge commenced work on his first large decorative project at the Trinity Church in Boston, where he collaborated with H.H. Richardson and Augustus Saint-Gaudens. His interior was acclaimed for its rich color, lavishly painted architectural ornamentation, and brilliant stained windows. La Farge pioneered the development of opalescent luster in his stained glass by blending and layering different colored glass within a single sheet. He formed the La Farge Decorative Art Company in 1883 and is largely credited for the revival of stained glass in America.

From the 1870s onward, La Farge’s work in the decorative arts would dominate his career. The post-Civil War era was a golden age for national, monumental architectural projects that placed emphasis on the aesthetic merits of the interior.La Farge received hundreds of commissions for both public and private domains. He worked on a number of churches including the United Congregational Church, St. Thomas’s Church, the Church of the Incarnation, the Church of the Ascension, and St. Paul’s Chapel. He was also commissioned to work on secular buildings such as the Union League Club in New York and the Supreme Court Chambers at the Minnesota State Capitol. He additionally decorated the private homes of the elite, including William Watts Sherman, Cornelius Vanderbilt II, and Henry Villard. The works he created during this period are heralded as some of the most important accomplishments of his career.

Beginning in 1886, La Farge traveled to Japan with his friend Henry Adams and later traveled to the South Seas from 1890-1891. These trips inspired a large series of watercolors that captured the brilliant color, exotic subjects, and indigenous culture of the islands that preceded Gauguin’s images of Tahiti. In 1886, La Farge also began his career as an author. He was a prolific writer and contributor to art criticism, completing seven books on art history and theories of perception, three dozen essays, and various travel accounts by his death.

La Farge was a scholar whose intellect and insatiable curiosity paralleled the ceaseless experimentation and innovation of his art. He skillfully worked with a variety of techniques and media including painting, sculpture, drawing, watercolor, illustration, architectural design, wood engraving, murals, stained glass and photography. Although La Farge was known to be an individualist, who did not align with any particular school that had emerged during this phase of American art, his eclectic works were not without precedent. As one critic noted: “It was characteristic of him to maintain a critic’s interest not only in his own methods but in those of contemporaries and forerunners; new masters and old; he did not cease to regard himself as a learner, practicing a deep humility of mind especially toward pupils and younger artists.”

Working counter to the popularity of the Hudson River School and American genre scene painting, La Farge oriented toward the art of the European Masters including Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, and Velazquez. He painted in a realistic style reminiscent of Courbet, Millet, and Manet, mixing the romanticism of Delacroix and the classicism of Ingres. He also explored Impressionism and borrowed the brilliant new color and detailed realism of the Pre-Raphaelites. La Farge was additionally an avid collector of Japanese art, which he began collecting as early as 1856. His art revealed asymmetrical, flattened compositions with heightened color and painterly surfaces.

La Farge continued to produce art, write and travel until his death. La Farge was esteemed by critics throughout his career and cultivated a national and international reputation for his role in the decorative arts. His influence was felt by all the heavy hitters of his time, including Stanford White, Henry James, Henry Adams, H.H. Richardson, Winslow Homer, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens. In his 1910 obituary the NY Tribune declared him to be “one of the greatest geniuses this country ever produced… a universal genius who belongs to all time.”

Throughout his prolific career, John La Farge enriched the American art scene and made significant contributions to an unparalleled array of genres. He produced approximately 250 oil paintings, a dozen mural projects, 400 stained-glass windows, 4,000 drawings, and 1,200 watercolors during his lifetime. His works are collected by many major museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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