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John LaFarge, 1902
March 31, 1835|
New York City, New York
|Died||November 14, 1910(aged 75)|
|Field||Painting, Stained glass art, Decorator, Writer|
|Training||Mount St. Mary's University|
LaFarge was born in New York City to wealthy French parents and was raised bilingually. His interest in art began during his studies at Mount St. Mary's University in Maryland  and St. John's College (now Fordham University) in New York. He initially intended to study law, but this changed after his first visit to Paris, France in 1856. Stimulated by the arts in the city, he studied with Thomas Couture and became acquainted with notable literary people. LaFarge also studied with the painter William Morris Hunt in Newport, Rhode Island.
LaFarge's earliest drawings and landscapes, from his studies in Newport, show marked originality, especially in the handling of color values. Many of La Farge's mythological and religious paintings, including Virgil, were executed in an area of Rhode Island known as "Paradise," in a forest which La Farge called "The Sacred Grove" after Virgil.
He was a pioneer in the study of Japanese art, the influence of which is seen in his work. During his life, LaFarge maintained a studio at 51 West 10th Street in Greenwich Village, which now is part of the site of Eugene Lang College at the New School University.
In the 1870s, LaFarge began to do murals, which became popular for public buildings as well as churches. His first mural was done in Trinity Church, Boston, in 1873. Then followed his decorations in the Church of the Ascension (the large altarpiece) and St. Paul's Chapel (Columbia University), New York. For the Minnesota State Capitol at St. Paul, he executed at age 71 four great lunettes representing the history of law. He created a similar series based on the theme of Justice for the State Supreme Court building at Baltimore, Maryland. He also took private commission from wealthy patrons (e.g. Cornelius Vanderbilt) and was reputedly worth $150,000 at one point.
LaFarge made extensive travels in Asia and the South Pacific, which inspired his painting. He visited Japan in 1886, and the South Seas in 1890 and 1891, in particular spending time and absorbing the culture of Tahiti. Henry Adams accompanied him on these trips as a travel companion. He visited Hawaii in September 1890, where he painted scenic spots on Oahu and traveled to the Island of Hawaii to paint an active volcano.
He learned several languages (ancient and modern), and was erudite in literature and art; by his cultured personality and reflective conversation, he influenced many other people. Though naturally a questioner, he venerated the traditions of religious art, and preserved his Catholic faith.
La Farge experimented with color problems, especially in the medium of stained glass. He rivaled the beauty of medieval windows and added new resources by inventing opalescent glass and by his original methods of superimposing and welding his materials.
Among his many stained glass works are windows at:
- Trinity Church, Boston (1877–78)
- Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina (1881)
- Church of St. Joseph of Arimathea in Greenburgh, New York (1883)
- St. Paul's Chapel, Columbia University, NYC (1888–99) Restored by The Greenland Studio NYC
- First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia (1891)
- Trinity Episcopal Church in Buffalo, New York (1886–89)
- All Saints Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor, New York (1889)
- Edwin Booth as Hamlet, at Church of the Transfiguration, Episcopal (Manhattan), New York City (1898) Restored by Victor Rothman Stained Glass, Yonkers, New York
- Mount Vernon Church, Boston, 1890s 
- Our Lady of Mercy Chapel at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island
- Christ Church in Lincoln, Rhode Island
- The Cathedral of All Saints, Albany, New York
Marriage and children
He was married on October 15, 1860 at Newport, Rhode Island, to Margaret Mason Perry, who was born on February 26, 1839 in Newport, Rhode Island, and died on May 2, 1925.
Her father was Christopher Grant Perry, the son of Elizabeth Champlin Mason and Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. He was a descendant of Gov. Thomas Prence (1599 - March 29, 1673) a co-founder of Eastham, Massachusetts, a political leader in both the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies, and governor of Plymouth (1634, 1638, and 1657–1673); and Elder William Brewster, (c. 1567 - April 10, 1644), the Pilgrim leader and spiritual elder of the Plymouth Colony, who had been a passenger on the Mayflower.
Her mother was Frances Sergeant, who was the daughter of Sarah Bache, the daughter of Sarah Franklin Bache and Richard Bache, and Chief Justice Thomas Sergeant. She was a great-granddaughter of Deborah Read and Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.
His eldest son, Christopher Grant LaFarge, was a partner in the New York-based architectural firm of Heins & LaFarge. He designed projects in Beaux-Arts style, notably the original Byzantine Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the Yale undergraduate society St. Anthony Hall (extant 1893–1913) pictured at, and the original Astor Court buildings of the Bronx Zoo.
His son Oliver Hazard Perry LaFarge I became an architect and real estate developer. Part of his career in real estate was in a Seattle partnership with Marshall Latham Bond, Bond & LaFarge. He designed the Perry Building, still standing in the city. Later in life O.H.P. LaFarge designed buildings for General Motors.
Legacy and honors
- He received the Cross of the Legion of Honor from the French Government
- He was elected president of National Society of Mural Painters from 1899 through 1904, and was a member of the principal artistic societies of the United States
- In 1904, he was one of the first seven artists chosen for membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters
Selection of LaFarge's writings
- The American Art of Glass (a pamphlet)
- Considerations on Painting (New York, 1895)
- An Artist's Letters from Japan (New York, 1897)
- The Great Masters (New York)
- Hokusai: a talk about Japanese painting (New York, 1897)
- The Higher Life in Art (New York, 1908)
- One Hundred Great Masterpieces
- The Christian Story in Art
- Letters from the South Seas (unpublished)
- Correspondence (unpublished)
Notes and references
- Adams, Foster, La Farge, Weinberg, Wren and Yarnell, John La Farge, Abbeville Publishing Group (Abbeville Press, Inc.), NY, NY 1987
- Cortissoz, Royal, John La Farge: A Memoir and a Study, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston 1911
- Forbes, David W., "Encounters with Paradise: Views of Hawaii and its People, 1778-1941", Honolulu Academy of Arts, 1992, 201-220.
- Gaede, Robert and Robert Kalin, Guide to Cleveland Architecture, Cleveland Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, Cleveland OH 1991
- Kowski, Goldman et al., Buffalo Architecture:A Guide, The MIT Press, Cambridge MA 1981
- Waern, Cecilia, John La Farge: Artist and Writer, Seeley and Co. Limited, London 1896
- "John La Farge's South Seas Sketchbooks:1890–1891" at the Yale University Art Gallery
- LaFarge Gallery at MuseumSyndicate
- Project Gutenberg
- Conservation & Restoration of LaFarge Stained Glass
- John LaFarge exhibition catalogs
Agathon to Erosanthe, Votive Wreath, 1861
Portrait of the Novelist Henry James, 1862
Wreath of Flowers, 1866, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Paradise Valley, 1866–68
The Golden Age, 1878, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Portrait of Faase, the Taupo of the Fagaloa Bay, Samoa, 1881
The Great Statue of Amida Buddha at Kamakura, 1886
Kilauea, Looking at Cone of Crater, 1890, Honolulu Museum of Art
Girls Carrying a Canoe, Vaiala in Samoa, 1891
Young Girls Preparing Kava Outside of the Hut whose Posts are Decorated with Flowers, 1891
View in Ceylon, near Dambula
Diadem Mountain at Sunset, Tahiti - Brooklyn Museum
Portrait of William James, circa 1859
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