Henry Farny: Romantic Realism of the American West

KatherineAmerican Paintings, Artist SpotlightLeave a Comment

Western artist Henry Francois Farny

Nineteenth century America saw the expansion of the country and the depletion of Native American land. As the Native Americans were pushed further and further away from their homes, the public became enamored with the idea of them. They felt as if Native American culture was disappearing and constructed romantic notions of these people. Henry Farny was among the first artists to make a career of painting Plains Indians. Unlike some, Farny tended to favor a romantic realism rather than sensationalism or straight romance.

Henry Farny was born in 1847 in Alsace, France. His family fled to America in 1853 as political refugees. They moved to Warren, Pennsylvania where Farny first met Native Americans. This sparked a lifelong fascination with their people and culture.

"Plains Indian" by Henry Farny, 1902

“Plains Indian” by Henry Farny, 1902

Farny made his way up the river and to Bismarck, North Dakota. Sitting Bull had surrendered himself to the American military and Farny had hoped to meet the famed leader and learn more about the Ghost Dance movement. The Ghost Dance was influenced by Christian belief and was an attempt by some Native American tribes to restore their lands and culture.  Prophet-dreamers had announced that the spirits of the dead were about to rise and help win ancestral homes and drive out the whites. This goal would be met through ritual song and dance to encourage the spirits to rise. During his visit, Henry Farny was able to sketch what he saw of the Ghost Dance and the Sioux Nation.

During Farny’s trips out west, he would collect Native American artifacts. His collection grew so large and diverse that he was able to paint any subject he wanted without needing to step outside his studio. However, he continued to travel and meet Native Americans.

While Farny presented his subjects in a slightly nostalgic light, he avoided the drama that other painters of this genre are known for. His light is dynamic, poses are natural, and there is a sense of documentary detail. Henry Farny truly wished to capture these cultures, down to the minor details.


Kenny Ackerman is an Art Dealer in New York, specializing in Fine Art Paintings from 19th-21st century Europe and America. To buy or sell original paintings by artists we represent, contact Ackerman’s Fine Art here.

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