John La Farge was an American muralist, painter, decorator, and stained glass windows maker. The artist was renowned mostly for his murals and stained glass windows.
John La Farge was born in March 1835, in New York City. His parents were wealthy French immigrants who raised him and his brothers bilingually. The young siblings even produced a handmade magazine entitled Le Chinois, in French.
His interest in art sparked rather late, compared to other celebrated artists. It was during his studies at the St. John’s College, now Fordham University in New York, and at Mout St. Mary’s University, Maryland. La Farge’s initial intention was to study law but changed his mind after a visit to Paris in 1856, amazed by the city’s artistic production. When he also studied painting under French painter Thomas Couture and made many notable acquaintances. Back in the United States, the artist studied at one of many of William Morris Hunt’s schools at the time, in Newport, Rhode Island, under the teachings of Hunt himself.
La Farge’s earliest landscapes and drawings from his time in Newport, already showed poignant originality, especially regarding his handling of color. His painting Virgil and many others were executed at a forest in the Rhode Island area known as “Paradise,” which La Farge entitled The Sacred Grove, after Virgil.
La Farge was one of the earliest American artists to import and be inspired by Japanese wood prints of artists such as Utagawa Hiroshige. In 1886, the artist made a trip to Japan, and almost fifteen years later, he published An Artist’s Letters from Japan.
La Farge received his first major commission in 1876, to execute mural decorating a whole complex for the important Trinity Church in Boston. Much due to said artworks, La Farge’s patron and long-time friend, Henry Hobson Richardson, won an architectural competition. As La Farge stated that he was able to propose an entire change to the character of Richardson’s buildings.
Soon, the artist developed a technique for executing opalescent glass. La Farge promptly received several commissions from both churches and wealthy private patrons for creating stained glass windows. Some of his most distinguished commissions were for the Memorial Hall at Harvard University; at the Paulist Church and the Church of the Incarnation in New York City. The artist continued to execute mural paintings alongside his stained glass commissions. Arguably, his most famous mural creation was the Ascension of Christ, in the Church of Ascension, New York City.
John La Farge died Providence, Rhode Island, on November 14, 1910.