Henry Farny

Henry Francois Farny was a French-American realist painter and illustrator of Northwest Native Americans. He was born in Alsace, France in 1847, but his family immigrated as political refugees to the United States when he was six years old. They settled in Pennsylvania and as he grew, Farny befriended a band of Seneca Native Americans, beginning his interest in Native American culture. In 1859, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where he apprenticed as a lithographer. In 1867, he lived briefly in New York City where he began publishing illustrations in Harper’s Weekly magazine though he realized that he needed to expand his artistic education. In 1867, he traveled to Germany to attend the Royal Academy in Düsseldorf where he studied under Herman Hartzog (1847 - 1916) and Thomas Read (1822-1872). He remained there for three years before moving back to Cincinnati where he illustrated for Harper’s Weekly as well as The Century magazine. He received commissions for other illustrations including circus posters and McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers, a widely used curriculum for grade school in the 19th century.

It wasn’t until 1881, during a canoeing adventure up the Missouri River that Henry Farny began to realize his passion for painting Native Americans. He sketched scenes of the Plains Indians during his expedition and began his artistic journey into the Native American culture. He was able to meet Sitting Bull in South Dakota two years later during a trip to illustrate the Northern Pacific Railroad's completion for Harper’s Weekly. He traveled further west with Ulysses S. Grant among other prominent figures, capturing the Crow Reservation inhabitants in the Montana Territory. Throughout his career, he had the privilege to create portraits of many Crow, Zuni, Apaches and more, including the portrait of Geronimo, signed by the chief himself. After 1890, Farny painted mainly with oils, but prior to this era, he preferred to use gouache and transparent watercolors. His paintings were romanticized versions of everyday life, using bright midday light and not the darker shadows which was a more popular style in his day. Farny tried to depict the Native Americans in a positive light, free of the negative life of the reservation. He entertained a great deal of travel before his death in 1916 which is evident in the historic content of his paintings, especially pertaining to the Native Americans.