"The Nation owes you a great debt. It does not realize now, but it will some day. You are preserving phases of American history that rapidly are passing away."
(-Theodore Roosevelt to Henry Farny, 1902)
(as quoted in P. and H. Samuels, Techniques of the Artists of the American West, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1990, p. 86)
An exceptional example of the artist's work in gouache, In Pastures New of 1895 was executed during the height of Henry Farny's painting career. Depicting a detailed rendering of everyday life of the Plains Indians, the present painting reveals the artist's masterful handling of color, space and atmosphere within a composition in a thoroughly convincing and effective manner.
French by birth, Farny emigrated to Warren, Pennsylvania with his parents and shortly thereafter settled in Cincinnati, Ohio where he spent the remainder of his life. Following the path of earlier Cincinnati artists, Farny traveled to Europe studying first in Düsseldorf and then in Munich. In Düsseldorf, Farny not only acquired the technical skills espoused by the local masters but also made the acquaintance of Albert Bierstadt who encouraged him to travel to the American West. Farny's stay in Munich exposed him to the bravura brushwork and dark, moody palette of Frank Duveneck, the preeminent American artist working in the southern German city at that time. The training Farny received in Europe provided him with the most advanced and sophisticated ideas of the late nineteenth century separating him from many of his contemporaries who chose the West and the Indian as their subject.
After returning from travel and study abroad, Farny made his first trip to the West in 1881, presumably to witness the capture of Sitting Bull. Arriving after the removal of Sitting Bull from Fort Yates along the Missouri River, Farny stayed on and became an active participant in the social life of the Indians who lived near the fort. Farny returned to the West in 1883 and 1884 in order to witness the final laying of the Northern Pacific Transcontinental Railroad and to illustrate an article for Century Magazine. During these trips and possibly a few more into the early 1890s, Farny gathered materials for the oil paintings and gouaches he would later complete in his Cincinnati studio. Collecting artifacts and props from the Indians he came to know affectionately, Farny recreated, and often repeated, scenes and events he witnessed on the Plains and in the mountains. Aided by on-site sketches and photographs both taken and purchased, Farny had gathered sufficient material and firsthand experience to paint the Indians of the American West in a sympathetic and lasting fashion.
In contrast to many of his contemporaries who employed unnatural effects of light and atmosphere, aggrandized scales of land and space and explosions of action and spirit to create drama and emotion, Farny succeeded in portraying his narratives with an uncommon subtlety and harmony, and therefore more in reality. Farny's skilled choice of color, one of his trademarks, is beautifully demonstrated in the present work, In Pastures New. To give the viewer a sense of the ethereal beauty of the untouched land, Farny chooses tones of blue, violet, and green to depict the evenly sun-drenched landscape of the Plains. The pale hardened ground on which the main figural group stands is complemented by cooler bands of green in the middle ground and the expansive blue sky. The entire composition is thoughtfully developed by contrasting horizontal bands of warm and cool tones that effectively lend to the expansiveness of the overall landscape, while Farny's precise modeling and exacting detail contribute to a clarity of vision and intensity of emotion.
As in the present example, In Pastures New, many of Farny's most successful works employ a characteristic asymmetrical composition, including In the Valley of the Shadow (private collection), The Truce (Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio) and Indian Encampment (The Gund Collection of Western Art, Cleveland, Ohio). To further exploit the subtle yet grand scale of the landscape and the integration of man and nature, Farny arranges the composition in an asymmetrical yet still balanced fashion, placing the main figure group off-center. Travois poles at lower right extend off the picture plane and add another visual stimulant and point of entry into the scene. Farny then purposefully leaves the left foreground vacant and only then chooses to fill this side of the composition in the in the middle ground with another figural group, effectively leading the viewer further into the scene. The overall distance is conveyed by the purposefully placed teepees, echoing the gentle sloping hillside in the background and off the expanse of the picture plane.
In Pastures New exhibits the hallmarks of Farny's highly independent style, revealing the international influences on his approach to painting a wholly national subject. Farny's treatment of the subject of the American Indians won the artist great popularity and acclaim during his lifetime which has continued to grow to this day.