Baylor O. Hickman (acquired directly from the artist)
By descent in the family to the present owner
Henry Farny first encountered Native American Indians in 1853 when his family moved to rural Pennsylvania from his birthplace of Ribeauville, France. Farny's mother, who was a skilled nurse, often took Henry with her on her trips to visit the local Onandaigua Indian reservation and give them medical care. In addition, his father established a sawmill in the pine forests and employed the local native population to help move the rafts of logs down river. Though the Farnys moved to Cincinnati after only six years in Pennsylvania, these formative years of Farny's childhood established a love and appreciation for Native American life that would preoccupy him for the remainder of his career.
Farny made his first trip to the American West in 1881, inspired by a desire to meet the legendary Chief Sitting Bull who had recently surrendered. He was not able to meet Sitting Bull, but he was impressed by the Indians that he did meet and returned to Cincinnati with many new ideas and artifacts which he then incorporated into his art. Though Farny primarily worked out of his studio in Cincinnati, he repeatedly travelled West, developing relationships with the Blackfoot, Zuni, and Sioux. He was comfortable and welcome in many camps, and was able to learn their native languages and observe a wide range of customs. Over the course of his career, Farny became particularly close to the Sioux Indians, and was eventually adopted by the tribe. They called him 'Whizhays' meaning Long Boots and 'Wasitcha' meaning White Face Maker, his name symbolically represented by a dot enclosed by a circle. This symbol accompanies his signature in the present work.
Farny's images reflected his respect for Native Americans and generally portrayed them in groups living in harmony with each other and the land. His works make few, if any, references to reservation life. Farny portrays the Native Americans in the present work with accurately detailed depictions of their attire, which was a combination of hand-made American Indian and settler's clothing. The proud but peaceful central figure in His Favorite Wife captures the image of American Indian life that the American public wanted to believe was the truth: Native Americans were still able to live amicably with their surroundings despite the reality of their confinement on the reservations. As one critic noted "the evidence of absolute fidelity and truth and unpretentious study of genuine Indians and real frontier life with which Farny's canvases fairly reek, give them a value that is not meretricious and altogether frank" (Richard H. Saunder, Collecting the West: The C.R. Smith Collection of Western American Art, Austin, Texas, 1988, p. 60).
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