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John La Farge (1835-1910)

From: Smithsonian American Art Museum

Painter, stained glass designer. Among his many commissions, decoration of the Trinity Church in Boston placed La Farge at the forefront of the American Arts and Crafts movement.
He early admired the formality and patterning of Japanese art, and he recored his impressions of his travels in Asia in An Artist’s Letters from Japan (1897).

John La Farge was born in New York City, the son of prosperous French emigres, his father having been a refugee from the ill-fated Napoleonic expedition to San Domingo.
La Farge began drawing at an early age, had intermittent instruction, and graduated from the Roman Catholic Mount St. Mary’s College in Maryland.

In 1856 he went to Europe, worked briefly under the painter Thomas Couture in Paris, and traveled in northern Europe. Returning to the United States, he went to Newport in order to study with William Morris Hunt.
There he met William and Henry James (William James was then also a student of Hunt’s).

La Farge was one of the first American artists to import and be influenced by Japanese color prints (1863).
He made a trip to Japan with Henry Adams in 1886, later publishing An Artist’s Letters from Japan (1897).

In 1876 La Farge completed a whole complex of mural decorations for Richardson’s distinguished Trinity Church in Copley Square, Boston; it was his first large-scale commission.
H. H. Richardson won the architectural competition for the New Trinity; he and La Farge had been friends for some time.

La Farge wrote of Trinity, “I was able to propose to Richardson to change entirely the character of his building. … I brought him photographs of the Spanish Romanesque churches, Avila and so forth. … It was thus that I came to decorate Trinity Church, Boston, which was being built by my friend Richardson, who believed in me without having much proof of what I could do in that way”.

La Farge worked out a technique for creating opalescent glass, and had many commissions from churches and private patrons for stained glass windows.
Some of the important commissions were for windows at Trinity Church, Boston; Memorial Hall at Harvard; the Church of the Incarnation and the Paulist Church, New York City.
But alongside these commissions, La Farge continued to paint and accept mural commissions. Perhaps the best known of the latter is the great apse mural of the Ascension of Christ in the Church of the Ascension in New York City, completed in 1887.

By birth, upbringing and style of life, John La Farge was a cosmopolite.
The evidence of his own contemporaries is that he exercised a considerable personal magnetism. Elihu Vedder, who was only a year younger than La Farge as one of the few whose approval he valued.
Vedder admired in La Farge’s paintings “his striving to express shades of thought so delicate that they seem to render words almost useless”. | Jane Dillenberger and Joshua C. Taylor The Hand and the Spirit: Religious Art in America 1700–1900 (Berkeley, Cal.: University Art Museum, 1972)

From: British Wikipedia


Between 1859-1870, La Fargo took up illustration, with Tennyson's Enoch Arden and Robert Browning's Men and Women, and worked on children's magazine illustrations with engraver Henry Marsh (American, 1826–1912).
In the 1870s, La Farge began to paint murals, which became popular for public buildings as well as churches. His first mural was painted in Trinity Church, Boston, in 1873.
Then followed his decorations in the Church of the Ascension (the large altarpiece) and St. Paul's Chapel, New York. He also took private commission from wealthy patrons (e.g. Cornelius Vanderbilt) and was reputedly worth $150,000 at one point.

La Farge continued to create murals through his career: for the Minnesota State Capitol at St. Paul, at age 71, he executed four great lunettes representing the history of law.
Also among his final works were six murals on the theme of eminent lawgivers, beginning with Moses, for the Baltimore City Court House, now the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse.
La Farge traveled extensively in Asia and the South Pacific, which inspired his painting. He visited Japan in 1886 in the company of Henry Adams, and the South Seas in 1890 and 1891, in particular spending time absorbing the culture of Samoa, Tahiti and Fiji, again in Adams' company.
In Hawaii in September 1890 he painted scenic spots on Oahu and traveled to the Island of Hawaii to paint an active volcano.

These travels are extensively recounted in his book Reminiscences of the South Seas, and in Adams' letters.
In 1863 he was elected into the National Academy of Design; in 1877 he co-founded the Society of American Artists in frustration at the National Academy's conservatism (although he retained his National Academy membership).
In 1892 La Farge was brought on as an instructor with the Metropolitan Museum of Art Schools to provide vocational training to students in New York City.

He served as President of the National Society of Mural Painters from 1899-1904.
In 1904, he was one of the first seven artists chosen for membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
La Farge also received the Cross of the Legion of Honor from the French Government.
La Farge is honored together with Ralph Adams Cram and Richard Upjohn with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on December 16.

John La Farge (New York, 31 marzo 1835 – Providence, 14 novembre 1910) è stato un pittore e scrittore Statunitense di origini francesi.
I dipinti di La Farge lo rendono uno dei primi artisti statunitensi ad adottare elementi stilistici derivati dalla pittura paesaggistica francese ottocentesca e di stampo progressista e fra i primi ad ispirarsi alle stampe giapponesi.
Egli si guadagnò anche una reputazione internazionale in qualità di artista del vetro e, assieme a Louis Comfort Tiffany, riuscì a rivoluzionare l'aspetto delle vetrate negli USA.

La gioventù

La Farge nacque a New York da ricchi genitori francesi e divenne bilingue.
Quando era bambino, lui e i suoi fratelli pubblicarono una rivista artigianale in lingua francese intitolata Le Chinois.
Si interessò all'arte durante il periodo in cui studiò alla Mount St. Mary's University, nel Maryland, ed al St. John's College (oggi Fordham University) di New York.
Sebbene volesse inizialmente studiare legge, La Farge decise di dedicarsi all'arte nel 1856, durante una visita a Parigi.
Stimolato dai fermenti artistici che imperversavano nella capitale francese, studiò con Thomas Couture, conobbe importanti letterati e scoprì l'arte dei preraffaeliti, che eserciterà un'influenza significativa sulla sua arte.
La Farge studiò anche con il pittore William Morris Hunt a Newport (Rhode Island).

Carriera artistica

I primi disegni e paesaggi di La Farge risalgono al periodo di studi a Newport. Molti di questi sono dedicati a temi mitologici e religiosi e vennero realizzati in una foresta di Rhode Island che egli definiva "Il Bosco Sacro", un nome ripreso dalla letteratura di Virgilio.
Tra il 1859-1870, La Farge illustrò l'Enoch Arden di Alfred Tennyson e Men and Women di Robert Browning lavorando anche alle illustrazioni di riviste per bambini con l'incisore Henry Marsh.
Negli anni settanta dell'Ottocento, La Farge iniziò a decorare murali di edifici pubblici e chiese che lo renderanno famoso fra cui la Trinity Church di Boston (1873), la pala d'altare nella Church of the Ascension e la St. Paul's Chapel di New York. Sue sono anche le decorazioni nelle case di William Watts Sherman e Cornelius Vanderbilt II nonché gli interni dello Union League Club di New York.
Nel 1886 visitò il Giappone con Henry Adams e, fra il 1890-1891, varie isole dei Mari del Sud e del Pacifico come Tahiti le Figi e le Hawaii. In questi anni riuscì a dipingere un vulcano attivo.

I viaggi di La Farge sono narrati nel suo libro, Reminiscences of the South Sea e nelle lettere di Adams.
Nel 1892, La Farge fu assunto in qualità di istruttore presso le Metropolitan Museum of Art Schools di New York.
Fu anche presidente alla National Society of Mural Painters dal 1899-1904.
All'età di 71 anni, creò quattro grandi lunette che rappresentano la storia della legge oggi collocate al Campidoglio di St. Paul. Durante la sua vita, La Farge scrisse diversi libri fra cui Considerations on Painting (1895), An Artist’s Letters from Japan (1897) e The Higher Life in Art (1908).
L'artista morì nel 1910 a Provenance, Rhode Island. | © Wikipedia