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Henry François Farny (American, 1847-1916)


Also known as:  Farny, François Henry; Farny, Henry F.; Farny, Henry Francois

Few late nineteenth-century artists of the American West better evoked the humanistic spirit of the Indian than Henry Farny. His family moved in 1847 from Alsace, France, to western Pennsylvania, where as a six-year-old he observed his mother caring for members of a local Seneca tribe. This fascination with Native American culture remained with Farny as he initiated his career in Cincinnati as an illustrator, receiving early commissions from Harper's Weekly and Century Magazine. During the 1880s, Farny made four major trips to the West, most on magazine assignments, each time sketching and photographing reservation life and gathering materials for compositions he assembled back in his Cincinnati studio. After 1890, painting replaced illustration as Farny's preferred medium. Working primarily in gouache, he rendered moving portraits of Comanche, Sioux, and Zuni leaders in native dress, as well as Indian genre scenes. Farny distinguished himself from fellow illustrators Frederic Remington and Charles Russell by depicting his subjects engaged in tranquil everyday pastimes rather than in violent combat with enemies—a strategy for heroizing what he considered a deeply intelligent people.

After his trip to Fort Yates, North Dakota in 1881, Farny began painting bust portraits of both identifiable and unknown Indians, a practice he continued for the rest of his career. Of these, his most famous was that of Sitting Bull from 1899, which posed the Little Bighorn warrior in full regalia. Others show anonymous sitters in western clothing, signaling the encroachment of white civilization.

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