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Painter, decorator, and writer, b. at New York, 31 March, 1835; d. at Providence, Rhode Island, 14 Nov., 1910. His parents were John Frederick de LaFarge, a French naval officer, and Louise Josephine Binsse (de St. Victor). Though his interest in art was aroused during his college training at Mount St. Mary's and Fordham University, he had only the study of law in view until he returned from his first visit to Paris, where he studied with Couture and enjoyed the most brilliant literary society of the day. Even his earliest drawings and landscapes, done in Newport, Rhode Island, after his marriage in 1861 with Margaret Mason Perry, show marked originality, especially in the handling of colour values, and also the influence of Japanese art, in the study of which he was a pioneer. LaFarge's inquiring mind led him to experiment with colour problems, especially in the medium of stained glass. He succeeded not only in rivalling the gorgeousness of the medieval windows, but in adding new resources by his invention of opalescent glass and his original methods of superimposing and welding his material. Among his many masterpieces are the "Battle Window" at Harvard and the cloisonné "Peacock Window" in the Worcester Art Museum. During 1859-70 he illustrated "Enoch Arden" and Browning's "Men and Women". Breadth of observation and structural conception, and a vivid imagination and sense of colour are shown by his mural decorations. His first work in mural painting 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 Church, New York. For the State Capitol at St. Paul he executed, in his seventy-first year, four great lunettes representing the history of religion, and for the Supreme Court building at Baltimore, a similar series with Justice as the theme. In addition there are his numberless minor paintings and water colours, notably those recording his extensive travels in the Orient and South Pacific.
LaFarge's writings include: "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"The Higher Life in Art" (New York, 1908); "One Hundred Great Masterpieces"; "The Christian Story in Art"; and the unpublished "Letters from the South Seas"; and "Correspondence". His labours in almost every field of art won for him from the French Government the Cross of the Legion of Honour and membership in the principal artistic societies of America, as well as the presidency of the Society of Mural Painters. Enjoying an extraordinary knowledge of languages (ancient and modern), literature, and art, by his cultured personality and reflective conversation he greatly influenced all who knew him. Though naturally a questioner he venerated the traditions of religious art, and preserved always his childlike Catholic Faith and reverence.
WAERN, John LaFarge in Portfolio Series; CORTISSOZ, John LaFarge (New York, 1911); New York Evening Post (15 Nov., 1910); BOURGET, Outre Mer; LAFARGE in America (27 May, New York, 1911).