DescriptionThe Hon. Paul H. Buchanan, Jr. Collection
HENRY FRANÇOIS FARNY (American, 1847-1916)
Saddling Up, 1895
Gouache on paper
7-5/8 x 16-3/8 inches (19.4 x 41.6 cm)
Signed and dated lower right: H. F. Farny '95
Kennedy Galleries, New York (label verso);
Private collection, Texas;
Purchased from Christie's, New York, May 28, 1992, lot 116 (labels verso).
Eiteljorg Museum, Indianapolis, Indiana, "Indiana Collects the West," July 16, 1994 - November 6, 1994 (label verso).
Of all of the artists who portrayed American Indians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Henry Farny holds a unique place. He chose to chronicle the quieter moments of life on the high plains and mountains of the American West. While other artists focused on the high drama and adventure of conflicts between Native Americans and encroaching settlers, Farny most often presented a counterpoint to such action. His small paintings, highly detailed and precise, with absolute fidelity to historical accuracy, are visual records of Native culture. Such everyday practices as making or moving camp, preparing for and returning from the hunt, or simply stopping for a conversation beside a stream, were largely overlooked by most other artists. For Farny, these are the central elements of many of his best compositions. Because Farny most often concentrated on the totality of Native culture, the common details that combine to form the mosaic of life, his work presents a far more comprehensive portrait and history of the true lives of American Indians at the close of the 19th century than most of his contemporary artists.
Farny was born in Ribeauville, Alsace, France in 1847 and migrated with his family to western Pennsylvania in 1848. His later fascination with American Indians most likely began at an early age with his family's association with a group of Seneca Indians who lived nearby. In 1859, Farny's family sought better opportunities farther west and moved to Cincinnati. Except for several trips to Europe where he received his artistic training, Farny remained in Cincinnati for the rest of his life. His artistic talent was nurtured at an early age and by 1865 at the age of eighteen he was already producing illustrations for Harper's and other publications. He remained a successful illustrator for much of his early artistic career and was afforded national recognition for his work in the McGuffey Reader, which helped educate thousands of American children.
Intrigued by news of the capture of famed Sioux chief, Sitting Bull, Farny embarked on his first western journey in 1881 to Fort Yates on the Missouri River, following in the footsteps of such early western painters as George Catlin and Karl Bodmer. By the time he arrived, Sitting Bull had already been removed, but Farny stayed at the fort for several months and frequently visited nearby Indian villages. The trip turned out to be a true turning point for his artistic career. The life that he observed here among the Native people of the plains would remain his most constant artistic pursuit for the rest of his life.
He made several sketches and photographs during his time at Fort Yates which he continued to use as resources for his paintings throughout his career. He also began collecting items such as clothing, weapons, saddles, and ceremonial objects. All of these items frequently found their way into his paintings and many were used on numerous occasions to add just the right touch of authenticity. Farny made other trips West from 1881 to 1894, and he continued to collect Native American material and to amass a sizeable collection of photographs of Indian culture. He was not a literal historian of Indian life, choosing instead to base his paintings on various elements from his sketches, photographs, and the photographs of others.
His works is often described as a romantic presentation of Indian life, yet he worked in a highly realistic manner. The landscapes in his paintings are exact depictions down to individual blades of grass. The clothing and other items in his paintings are rendered with such precision that one can distinguish between different styles in bead and quill work. Farny began painting American Indians just as their culture was undergoing a dramatic and traumatic transformation from the freedom of the open plains to the containment of the reservation system. His firsthand observation of that transformation can be felt in his compositions which frequently show individuals isolated against beautiful yet desolate backgrounds or separated and apart from family groups and villages.
Saddling Up, painted in 1895 is a classic and excellent example of Farny's work. The painting depicts an Indian man preparing his mount. Both horse and man are depicted in precise detail. A buckskin rifle case is positioned at the feet of the rider giving yet another realistic detail to the scene. In the background, members of the rider's family are also preparing for a journey and are packing a travois that was used to move their household possessions across the plains. Farther in the background, another rider is leading a horse to join the procession. The effect of these groupings is to lead the viewer's eye to the scattering of teepees that stretch along the near horizon from left to right and then back to the fully detailed rider in the foreground. In this small, exquisitely painted scene Farny is able to both convey a quiet and authentic tableau of Native American life and also the sweeping grandeur of the western landscape.
While his contemporaries, such as Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, often chose to focus on the more dramatic, but far less frequent elements of Western life, Farny painted such scenes as Saddling Up that quietly convey a rich and deep tradition of American Indian culture. Rooted in a particular historic period, Farny's paintings are timeless in their ability to offer a glimpse into that culture.
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