Born in Alsace Lorraine, France, Henry Farny became a well-known American illustrator and painter, known for his portrayals of the quiet aspects of Indian life. His work reflected the late 19th and early 20th century romanticism of the American Indian, 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.
At age 5, Farny fled France and settled in western Pennsylvania with his family. In 1859, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio and studied lithography and illustrated for Harper’s Weekly. From 1867 to 1870, he studied in Europe. Farny returned to illustration in Cincinnati and from there traveled widely in the West, making his first trip in 1881, the same year that Sitting Bull surrendered in Sioux Territory. Farny traveled to the Sioux agency at Standing Rock, hoping to see Sitting Bull, but he had been transferred to another fort. Nevertheless, Farny came away deeply impressed with what he had seen. “The plains, the buttes, the whole country and its people, are fuller with of material for the artist than any country in Europe,” he said.
Farny brought to his Cincinnati studio a number of artifacts, sketches, and photographs, which he proceeded to translate into his finished works. He continued to travel the West, finally meeting Sitting Bull and Geronimo. He was fond of the Sioux Indians and was adopted into their tribe with the name “Long Boots.” Everywhere Farny traveled, there was ample evidence that a great era of American history had passed.
Farny had a deep regard for Indians as individuals and often depicted them in a harmonious environment; only a few of his paintings show Indians in dramatic action. 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. 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.
After 1890, Farny’s activity as an illustrator sharply decreased in favor of his efforts to produce more finished works for exhibition and sale. Unlike the work of many early western artists, Henry Farny’s paintings met with almost instant acclaim. Farny often worked on a small scale in watercolor or gouache. His typical 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.
Reference: The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier, edited by Dr. Rick Stewart, AskArt.com