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About John LaFarge

John LaFarge (March 31, 1835 – November 14, 1910) was an American painter, muralist, stained glass window maker, decorator, and writer.


LaFarge was born in New York City to wealthy French parents and was raised bilingually. His interest in art began during his studies at Mount St. Mary's University in Maryland and St. John's College (now Fordham University) in New York. He initially intended to study law, but this changed after his first visit to Paris, France in 1856. Stimulated by the arts in the city, he studied with Thomas Couture and became acquainted with notable literary people. LaFarge also studied with the painter William Morris Hunt in Newport, Rhode Island.

LaFarge's earliest drawings and landscapes, from his studies in Newport, show marked originality, especially in the handling of color values. Many of La Farge's mythological and religious paintings, including Virgil, were executed in an area of Rhode Island known as "Paradise," in a forest which La Farge called "The Sacred Grove" after Virgil.

He was a pioneer in the study of Japanese art, the influence of which is seen in his work. During his life, LaFarge maintained a studio at 51 West 10th Street in Greenwich Village, which now is part of the site of Eugene Lang College at the New School University.

Between 1859 and 1870, he illustrated Tennyson's Enoch Arden and Robert Browning's Men and Women.

In the 1870s, LaFarge began to do murals, which became popular for public buildings as well as churches. His first mural was done in Trinity Church, Boston, in 1873. Then followed his decorations in the Church of the Ascension (the large altarpiece) and St. Paul's Chapel (Columbia University), New York. For the Minnesota State Capitol at St. Paul, he executed at age 71 four great lunettes representing the history of law. He created a similar series based on the theme of Justice for the State Supreme Court building at Baltimore, Maryland. He also took private commission from wealthy patrons (e.g. Cornelius Vanderbilt) and was reputedly worth $150,000 at one point.

LaFarge made extensive travels in Asia and the South Pacific, which inspired his painting. He visited Japan in 1886, and the South Seas in 1890 and 1891, in particular spending time and absorbing the culture of Tahiti. Henry Adams accompanied him on these trips as a travel companion. He visited Hawaii in September 1890, where he painted scenic spots on Oahu and traveled to the Island of Hawaii to paint an active volcano.

He learned several languages (ancient and modern), and was erudite in literature and art; by his cultured personality and reflective conversation, he influenced many other people. Though naturally a questioner, he venerated the traditions of religious art, and preserved his Catholic faith.

On his death in 1910, John LaFarge was interred in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Stained glass

La Farge experimented with color problems, especially in the medium of stained glass. He rivaled the beauty of medieval windows and added new resources by inventing opalescent glass and by his original methods of superimposing and welding his materials.

Among his many stained glass works are windows at:

Trinity Church, Boston (1877–78)

Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina (1881)

Church of St. Joseph of Arimathea in Greenburgh, New York (1883)

St. Paul's Chapel, Columbia University, NYC (1888–99) Restored by The Greenland Studio NYC

First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia (1891)

Trinity Episcopal Church in Buffalo, New York (1886–89)

All Saints Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor, New York (1889)

Edwin Booth as Hamlet, at Church of the Transfiguration, Episcopal (Manhattan), New York City (1898) Restored by Victor Rothman Stained Glass, Yonkers, New York

Mount Vernon Church, Boston, 1890s

Our Lady of Mercy Chapel at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island Christ Church in Lincoln, Rhode Island

The Cathedral of All Saints, Albany, New York

Marriage and children

He was married on October 15, 1860 at Newport, Rhode Island, to Margaret Mason Perry, who was born on February 26, 1839 in Newport, Rhode Island, and died on May 2, 1925.

Her father was Christopher Grant Perry, the son of Elizabeth Champlin Mason and Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. He was a descendant of Gov. Thomas Prence (1599 - March 29, 1673) a co-founder of Eastham, Massachusetts, a political leader in both the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies, and governor of Plymouth (1634, 1638, and 1657–1673); and Elder William Brewster, (c. 1567 - April 10, 1644), the Pilgrim leader and spiritual elder of the Plymouth Colony, who had been a passenger on the Mayflower.

Her mother was Frances Sergeant, who was the daughter of Sarah Bache, the daughter of Sarah Franklin Bache and Richard Bache, and Chief Justice Thomas Sergeant. She was a great-granddaughter of Deborah Read and Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.

His eldest son, Christopher Grant LaFarge, was a partner in the New York-based architectural firm of Heins & LaFarge. He designed projects in Beaux-Arts style, notably the original Byzantine Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the Yale undergraduate society St. Anthony Hall (extant 1893–1913) pictured at, and the original Astor Court buildings of the Bronx Zoo.

His son Oliver Hazard Perry LaFarge I became an architect and real estate developer. Part of his career in real estate was in a Seattle partnership with Marshall Latham Bond, Bond & LaFarge. He designed the Perry Building, still standing in the city. Later in life O.H.P. LaFarge designed buildings for General Motors.

John LaFarge, Jr., S.J., became a Jesuit priest and a strong supporter of anti-racist policies.

Legacy and honors

He received the Cross of the Legion of Honor from the French Government

He was elected president of National Society of Mural Painters from 1899 through 1904, and was a member of the principal artistic societies of the United States

In 1904, he was one of the first seven artists chosen for membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters


LaFarge is honored together with Ralph Adams Cram and Richard Upjohn with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on December 16.

Selection of LaFarge's writings

The American Art of Glass (a pamphlet)

Considerations on Painting (New York, 1895)

An Artist's Letters from Japan (New York, 1897)

The Great Masters (New York)

Hokusai: a talk about Japanese painting (New York, 1897)

The Higher Life in Art (New York, 1908)

One Hundred Great Masterpieces

The Christian Story in Art

Letters from the South Seas (unpublished)

Correspondence (unpublished)

view all 12

John LaFarge's Timeline

January 6, 1862
Age 27
Newport, Rhode Island, United States
October 28, 1862
Age 27
Glen Cove, Nassau, NY, United States
September 23, 1865
Age 30
Newport, Newport, Rhode Island, United States
September 6, 1867
Age 32
Middletown or Newport, Rhode Island, United States
July 10, 1869
Age 34
Middletown or Newport, Rhode Island, United States
March 26, 1872
Age 37
Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island, United States
January 10, 1874
Age 39
Newport, Newport, Rhode Island, United States
November 30, 1876
Age 41
Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island, United States