FARNY, HENRY (1847-1916)
Henry François Farny was one of the first artists to make a career painting Great Plains Indians. Born at Ribeauvillé, Alsace, on July 15, 1847, Farny emigrated with his family to the United States in 1854. He traveled to Fort Yates in Dakota Territory in 1881 and came into contact with the Sioux, whom he sketched. From that point the focus of his work became the western landscape and Indians. His paintings are rarely topographical but often recall the upper Missouri and Platte River valleys, the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma, and the Rockies. The paintings are almost always populated with nostalgically situated Plains Indians painted in exquisite and accurately rendered–albeit occasionally out of context– detail. It should not be forgotten that Farny was trained in a European tradition that valued imagination and creativity; his work strove to create an effect of a past age rather than historical documentation.
Although he traveled frequently, Farny worked exclusively out of the studio and was at his best when painting either the Sioux or the Apaches in what he considered their traditional territories. He exhibited widely in the United States, France, and Germany. His painting Danger (1888) won a bronze medal at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. He is perhaps best known for the pathos of The Song of the Talking Wire (1904), which portrays an uncomprehending Sioux with his ear to a telegraph pole. Farny died in Cincinnati on December 23, 1916.
John Wilson Cincinnati, Ohio
Carter, Denny. Henry Farny. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1978.