LaFarge, John – American artist & stained glass maker

John LaFarge (American, 1835 to 1910)

La Farge moved from New York to Newport in the spring of 1859 to study painting with William Morris Hunt. He nonetheless frequently visited Glen Cove, Long Island, where his family had a large summer property that had been purchased by his father sometime before 1835. The impressive Glen Cove estate, extending over some fifty acres, could be accessed directly by boat from both Hempstead Harbor and Glen Cove Bay. The main building was a large brick house with a stone terrace, opening onto a lawn bordering heavy woods.

On October 15, 1860, La Farge married Margaret Mason Perry in Newport after a year-long courtship that had been complicated by differences between her Episcopalian faith and his Roman Catholic religion. The couple apparently spent time at Glen Cove after the wedding as a means of reconciling the marriage with La Farge’s mother, who had been widowed in 1858.

La Farge painted a handful of small oils during this stay at Glen Cove. They depict the lush woods and rolling hillsides surrounding the La Farge country house. All are small plein-air exercises executed on wood panels (La Farge’s preferred medium at the time). All were intended to capture the light conditions and naturalistic features of the terrain in the spirit of French Realist or Barbizon art. These paintings reflect La Farge’s disenchantment with his training in the studio of William Morris Hunt, where La Farge criticized Hunt’s “formulas” and forged a self-proclaimed “programme” to study “realistic painting” as a fresh start.

Information courtesy of Skinner, Inc., May 2010.

John LaFarge was a ‘Renaissance Man’ and leading American artist of the Aesthetic movement. He worked in a variety of media which combined elements from disparate artistic styles. It is in his illustrations that we see the influence of Japanese prints and the English Pre-Raphaelite movement. Kathleen Foster writes, ‘La Farge’s interest in illustration dated from the 1850s, along with his early study of Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites, but his serious work along such lines began after a lengthy illness in 1865-1867 forced him to give up outdoor work.’ His fantastical illustrations were considered somewhat gothic with a distinct Japanese influence, and used Japanese painting techniques to create a softness and instill a sense of mystery. ‘La Farge introduced a new mood of imaginative fantasy into American illustration. Often he dealt with terrifying themes, such as danger, abandonment, [and] strange encounters…

Information courtesy of Skinner Inc. September, 2007

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