Henry F Farny was a son of a political refugee born in Alsace, France. His family moved to Pennsylvania when he was six years old.
When he was young, he had a friendly relationship with the people of the Seneca tribe in the nearby vicinity to where he lived. Thereafter, he developed a life-long fascination with Native Americans.
Henry Farny Biography
Henry F Farny and his family relocated to Cincinnati in 1859. He worked as an apprentice lithographer there. Harper’s Weekly published a two-page view of Cincinnati drawn by Farny at the age of 18.
After working for Harper’s New York, he wanted to go for more advanced training. He traveled to Royal Academy in Dusseldorf, Germany, in 1867 and spent three years studying painting under Thomas Read, John Twachtman, Frank Duveneck, and Herman Hartzog.
He returned to Cincinnati in 1970 and resumed his career working as an illustrator for Harper’s Weekly and other local publishers and Century magazines. He made illustrations for circus posters and McGuffy’s Eclectic Readers, which are the most popular 19th-century grade school texts.
In 1881 the great Lakota leader, Sitting Bull, turned himself over to the U.S military and was held at the Standing Rock Agency. Henry F Farny hoping to meet Sitting Bull, traveled To North Dakota only to find out that Sitting Bull had been moved to another location.
However, his journey was not fruitless after all, as he was enchanted by the life of the Plains Native American life, he used this opportunity to collect artifacts and make sketches to use in his paintings in Cincinnati. After this, he spent most of his life documenting scenes from the Plains Native Americans Lifestyle.
He embarked on his Western trip again in 1883 and illustrated the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad transcontinental line for Century magazine. He met Sitting Bull at the celebrations that took place at the new territory at Bismarck, who then addressed the people via an interpreter.
He continued on the railroad with the likes of Ulysses S.Grant sketching scenes of the Montana Territory and the Crow Reservation at Grey Cliff, which were also used for Century Magazine.
Type of Work
Henry F. Farny’s works were mostly Western in nature. There were illustrations of Montana to Fort Benton, Helena to Missouri River, and several portraits of different Zuni leaders, which he created for Frank Cushing, a famous anthropologist.
Farny sketched Zuni Portraits when his subjects were at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. D.C.
He was then invited to Fort Sill in Oklahoma Territory by General Nelson Miles in 1894. He was asked to paint the Apaches. One of his most notable works was a watercolor sketch of Geronimo. He met him on his trip, and the chief himself signed the painting.
After 1890 Henry F Farny stopped illustrations and began easel painting. He particularly depicted Plains Native Americans he met, studied, and lived with, in his paintings.
His paintings are considered to follow the romantic realist tradition, which was prevalent in the late 19th century. He has used transparent watercolor and gouache to depict highly detailed expressions of the Native life, excluding the negative impact of reservation living.
Although, Henry’s paintings are idealized, yet, they are not overly dramatized like the ones done by other painters before his times. The light he uses in his paintings is intense but doesn’t have a pronounced effect of a chiaroscuro technique of shadow and firelight.
The subject in his paintings always poses candidly. It doesn’t look like a staged scene. Farny was a student and a scholar of Dusseldorf and Munich schools of Fine arts, and it can be seen from his artwork as he had used the Dusseldorf techniques like the drab style realism.
The oppression of the Native Americans and the post-civil war era is masterfully depicted in his paintings. One of those painting is In song of the talking wire, which is interpreted as a native American struggling with the white man’s technology that he has to succumb to ultimately.
Another artwork was Morning of a New Day, which shows a scene where Native Americans are standing on a snowy hill watching something far away.
Due to his paintings, Farny gained a reputation for using the ‘vanishing race’ painting style. He aimed to preserve the detailed scenes of the Native American’s way of life, which was disappearing right before his very eyes.
The Legacy of Henry F. Farny
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Henry F. Farny’s paintings continue to get acclaimed and are part of the most public and private Western art collections. In recent times one of his paintings called Southern Plains Indian Warrior was sold three times its original value at Bonhams for US$362,500.
Theodore Roosevelt said to him, “Farny, the nation owes you a great debt. It does not realize it now, but it will someday. You are preserving for future generations phases of American history that are rapidly passing away.”
He passed away in Cincinnati in 1916