John La Farge, American Stained Glass Artist
American stained glass artist, John La Farge was born in New York City on March 31, 1835 to french immigrant parents. Upon completion of his formal education in law he ventured to Europe to study art. After his return to the United States he made a brief attempt at practicing law, but soon gave it up to follow his passion for artistic expression. Initially, he painted landscapes later moving on to figures and stills and eventually caught a break doing drawings for a magazine. His first prominent assignment, however, was in 1876 when he was commissioned to handle the décor for the entire interior of the Trinity Church in Boston.
That accomplishment represents a milestone in American art as it was the first real mural painted here. Many art historians consider his painting on the end wall above the altar in the Church of the Ascension in New York his greatest masterpiece.
He became intrigued with glass making after becoming aware of certain inadequacies in the industry which limited the ability of an artist to create brilliant designs with varying transparencies without losing the polished finish. He then developed techniques in overlays (plating) and opalescent glass which has come to be known as American Stained Glass. Initially he used these new methods on privately owned homes despite the fact he had previously designed the old style stained glass window for the Trinity Church. The “Battle Window” in Memorial Hall at Harvard University, commissioned to commemorate Harvard’s Civil War dead, is considered to be one of his most significant works in stained glass. Other notable stained glass achievements include Watson Memorial in Trinity Church, Buffalo and the Church of the Ascension, New York.
While his leading competitor in the business, namely Louis C. Tiffany, chose to employ a staff and develop a factory, John continued to do his projects one at a time and mainly by himself. He began to perfect a technique of making jewel-like flower panels which were installed in the mansions of many of the wealthiest members of turn-of-the-century American aristocrats such as Cornelius Vanderbilt. La Farge is believed to have created several thousand stained glass windows over the course of his career some of grand and immense artistic and historical importance and others just a minute decorative touch in a private home. His last work of the jewel-like flower type is said to have been “The Peacock” which was purchased by the Worcester Museum.
La Farge won many awards including one from the Legion of Honor, which was given him for the stained glass window exhibited at the French Exposition in 1889. He was awarded a gold medal at the Pan- American Exposition at Buffalo in 1901 and three years later in St. Louis he was awarded a diploma and medal of honor for distinguished service in art. He was the initiatory recipient of the Medal of Honor from the Architectural League of New York’s. He was elected an Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1863 and became a full fledged Academician in 1869.
He presided as president of the Society of American Artists among other notable achievements before his death in 1910. La Farge will long be remembered for his contributions to American art and most especially his innovations and artistic expression in stained glass.