Few American artists captured the frontier spirit and raw beauty of the American West with the skill and precision of Henry Farny. Born in 1847 in Ribeauville, France, Henry Farny moved to the United States with his family at the age of six. Farny's fascination with the American Indian began soon after he and his family moved to America from France. Farny's mother, Jeanette, often gave medical treatment to the members of an Onandaigua tribe that lived near the family's home in Western Pennsylvania. While the Farnys soon moved to the more urban Cincinnati, where the artist spent most of his life, Farny kept with him a fondness and interest in the Indian culture.
Farny made his first trip to the West in 1881 and became an active participant in the social life of the Indians who lived near Fort Yates along the Missouri River. He then returned again to the West in 1883 and 1884 and continued to return until his last trip in 1894. During these trips, Farny gathered materials for the oil paintings and gouaches he would later complete in his Cincinnati studio. 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. Painting from his studio, rather than in the plains enabled Farny to use landscapes and figures interchangeably. Farny would use Indian models repeatedly in his paintings and place them in fictional or non-native landscapes.
Several of the most effective tools Farny employed were a result of Farny's interest in Japanese art. As Denny Carter writes, "By varying the viewpoint of the composition, cutting off elements at the edge of the painting, and employing assymetrical compositions, Farny used the Japanese motifs to achieve a more realistic representation of the landscape." (Henry Farny, New York, 1978, p. 28) Farny learned these avant-garde devices from the Japanese design books he kept in his studio. As early as 1873, Farny recognized and assimilated the unusual aesthetic ideas of Japanese art which gained popularity and admiration among European and American artists of the day. The combination of this cutting off at the edge, a strong horizontal format, a high horizon line, and a sharp, diagonal line is a formula Farny used once he recognized the balance and strength it could lend his images. Many of Farny's most successful works employ this characteristic composition. He also often used the motif of an Indian traveling in the evening with a horizontal line beyond the distant trees. Hunter is an example of such a composition. The figure of the Indian is in the foreground cut off at the waist with the high horizon line in the background. This is balanced by the vertical Indian and the shotgun held at a sharp angle.
Between 1893 and 1912, Farny treated the Indian more as an element in the landscape and became very interested in light effects. Painted in 1899, Hunter has a blue cast of the snow along with the pinks, purples and yellows of the sunset adds to the painting's luminosity. Denny Carter notes, "His predilection for sunsets and hazy twilight scenes heightened the serenity created by his balanced compositions producing a tranquil, peaceful mood. The quietism and luminism of Farny's late work are manifestations of a long tradition in American art, particularly practiced by earlier artists such as John Kensett, Fitz Hugh Lane, and Martin Johnson Heade. Their paintings often emphasized a pronounced horizon line, water with its reflections, and soft harmonious light. Farny's late paintings, then, did not break new artistic ground but rather represented the application of older concepts to the western genre...Even though Farny is known primarily as a painter of Indians, his depiction of the light and mood of the Western landscape will probably remain his most lasting contribution to American art." (Henry Farny, p. 34)