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La Farge family papers

Call Number: MS 24

Scope and Contents

The central figure in the La Farge Family Papers is the American artist John La Farge (1835-1910). The La Farge Papers contain his correspondence, some of his writings, and additonal papers related to his life and work, including financial records, photographs, catalogues of exhibitions, published and unpublished studies of his art, and a catalogue of the works of John La Farge compiled by his grandson, Henry Adams La Farge. The correspondence of Bancel La Farge (1865-1938, son of John La Farge) and the correspondence of Henry Adams La Farge, relating primarily to the work of John La Farge, compose the balance of the collection.

Series I, "Correspondence of John La Farge," has three major correspondents: Henry Adams, author and close personal friend of John La Farge; Mrs. Mary Cadwalader Jones, sister-in-law of Edith Wharton; and Russell Sturgis, New York architect, editor, and art critic.

The second series, "Correspondence of Bancel La Farge," includes correspondence of his wife, Mabel La Farge. There are letters from John La Farge and Mrs. John La Farge, Mary Cadwalader Jones, and Grace Edith Barnes, John La Farge's secretary. Other correspondents are the artist Jean Julien Lemordant and George Dudley Seymour. Series II also contains a letterbook of John and Bancel La Farge which records their correspondence with others about art projects and commissions for the years 1895-1897.

The correspondence of Henry Adams La Farge which appears in these papers (Series III) is almost exclusively concerned with the work of John La Farge. His correspondence with galleries, museums, and owners of private art collections reflect his efforts to gather information on the nature and location of his grandfather's works. As an authority on John La Farge his advice and assistance is sought on research projects and publications. Some letters to Henry La Farge attempt to verify the authenticity of a particular painting, drawing, or stained glass window; others discuss the sale or acquisition of La Farge works. In addition, there is correspondence related to La Farge exhibitions at various galleries and museums, such as the Graham Gallery, the Kennedy Galleries, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Series IV, the "Writings of John La Farge," contains lectures and published articles on Western and Oriental art, as well as comments on his life and work. Evaluations and descriptions of the work of John La Farge by others have been filed in Series V, "Writings on John La Farge." They include Cecilia Waern's 1896 monograph on La Farge, a dissertation by Sister Mary Jeanne File written in 1945, and articles by Henri Focillon, Henry A. La Farge, Kenyon Cox, and others. There are descriptions of La Farge exhibits, mural decorations, and windows, and a file of clippings dating from 1875 to 1940.

The financial records found in Series VI are fragmentary. They include cash account books of John La Farge for 1895 through 1898, and a copy of his will.

Series VII, "Photos," includes photographs of La Farge and his work, and several photos of other subjects. There are proofs of La Farge illustrations for An Artist's Letters from Japan, negative plates and prints of his studio and his work. The photographs in this series, however, represent only a small fraction of the paintings, windows, and drawings executed by John La Farge in his lifetime.

Catalogues of John La Farge exhibitions and sales, spanning a ninety year period from 1878 to 1968, are in Series VIII, "Catalogues".

Of primary importance in the La Farge Family Papers is the unpublished catalogue of the works of John La Farge, compiled by Henry Adams La Farge. Oil paintings and mural decorations are described in a loose-leaf notebook. A card file lists the watercolors, stained glass, and drawings.


This addition to the La Farge Family Papers consists of papers of Louis Bancel La Farge. Some of his papers, received previously, are in box 4 of the main collection. The addition consists almost entirely of materials from his work in 1945 as chief of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section (M.F.A.A.) of the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (S.H.A.E.F.), and of related materials concerning the salvage and, later, the ownership of European works of art.

Most of these papers are M.F.A.A. office files, which contain correspondence, memoranda, reports, a few writings (esp. folders 17, 19, 22), a few photographs (folders 3, 16, 19), printed memorabilia such as posters and postcards, and printed matter (including maps and civil affairs handbooks). These files have been left more or less as received; most of the headings are copied from the original folders, and the contents of the folders have not been changed, except that some personal correspondence has been separated (folder 1). The folders had to be given an order, and within each folder the materials have been arranged chronologically.

Many of the papers were originally marked "Confidential" or "Secret." They were declassified by the National Archives and Records Service in September, 1981.

Almost all papers in this addition were given to Yale University Library by Louis Bancel La Farge in June, 1980. Material in folder 22 was donated by Theodore Sizer in March, 1962.


  • 1850-1990


Conditions Governing Access

Series I-VIII are available on microfilm. Patrons must use FILM HM 48 instead of the originals.

Existence and Location of Copies

Papers of John, Bancel, and Henry La Farge are available on microfilm (6,892 frames on 6 reels, 35mm.)from Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, at cost. Order no. HM48.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown, though much of the material in this collection is likely in the public domain. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Bancel, Henry, and Louis Bancel La Farge, 1950-1980. Gift of James L. Yarnall, 1991. Gift of Mary A. La Farge, 1991 and 1994.


Arranged in nine series and two additions: I. Correspondence of John La Farge. II. Correspondence of Bancel La Farge. III. Correspondence of Henry Adams La Farge. IV. Writings of John La Farge. V. Writings on John La Farge. VI. Financial Records and Miscellany. VII. Photographs. VIII. Catalogues. IX. Louis Bancel La Farge Papers.


9.75 Linear Feet (22 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence, writings, financial records, and other papers, principally of John La Farge (1835-1910), American painter, worker in stained glass, and writer; and of his son, Bancel La Farge (1865-1938); and his grandsons, Henry Adams La Farge (1902-1985) and Louis Bancel La Farge (1900-1989). Of special interest is a large file of correspondence between John La Farge and Henry Adams and an unpublished catalogue of La Farge's work by Henry La Farge. The papers of Louis Bancel La Farge include materials documenting his work as chief of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section (MFAA) of the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force, and related materials concerning the salvage and, later, the ownership of European works of art. Included are MFAA office files containing correspondence, memoranda, reports, photographs, and printed memorabilia such as posters, postcards, maps and other items. Of particular interest is the correspondence concerning the return of the Crown of St. Stephen to Hungary.

Biographical / Historical

A biographical sketch of the life of John La Farge follows. For additional biographical information consult the Dictionary of American Biography, the official biography by Royal Cortissoz entitled John La Farge: a Memoir and a Study, and a collection of Russell Sturgis scrapbooks (3 vols.) in the Columbia University Library. Supplementary manuscript material may be found in the papers of Royal Cortissoz in the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

John La Farge was born in New York City on March 31, 1835, of French parents, John Frederic and Louisa La Farge. As a child, La Farge received instruction in drawing from his maternal grandfather, Binsse de Saint Victor. Upon completion of his college education, La Farge went to France in 1856 and studied for a short time under Couture in Paris. After having copied some of the old masters in the Louvre, La Farge visited museums in Germany, Denmark, and Belgium. He traveled to England, where he saw the Manchester Exhibition of 1857 and became acquainted with the work of the pre-Raphaelites.

After his return to New York in 1858, La Farge worked for a time in a law office, then went to Newport, RI, to study painting with William Morris Hunt. In 1860, La Farge married Margaret M. Perry, of Newport, who had nine children by him.

In this early period La Farge painted religious subjects, still life, and landscapes. Intrigued with principles of light and color, La Farge sought to capture in his nature studies the exact time of day and condition of light, thus anticipating preoccupations of the Impressionists. A severe illness interrupted his work in 1866; during a long convalescence, La Farge produced a series of illustrations for books and magazines.

Following a visit to Europe in 1873, La Farge became increasingly interested in mural decoration and the art of stained glass. In 1876, he was engaged to decorate the interior of Trinity Church, Boston, by its architect, H.H. Richardson. The following year, La Farge was commissioned to decorate St. Thomas' Church in New York City. Commissions for other churches followed, among them the Brick Church (1882), the Church of the Incarnation (1885), and the Church of the Ascension (1887), in New York City. His murals and glass appeared in numerous secular buildings as well. La Farge executed mural paintings for the supreme court room in the capitol of Minnesota, created the "Battle Window" at Harvard University, and received commissions to decorate private residences, including the houses of White-law Reid and Cornelius Vanderbilt. In his later years, La Farge made greater use of assistants in executing his commissions. This was owing in part to his poor health and in part to the growing demand for his work.

John La Farge was an innovator in the art of stained glass, pioneering the use of new materials and techniques. He developed his own opalescent glass, which he combined with ordinary stained glass, streaked glass, and semi-precious stones to create a richer, more varied effect. La Farge experimented with molded glass, with different methods of fusing glass without leads, and with the technique of plating several layers of glass to achieve more subtle tones. As a result of his work in stained glass, the French government awarded La Farge the decoration of the Legion of Honor.

La Farge left his New York studio in 1886 to visit Japan, and again in 1890 for an extended tour of Samoa, Tahiti, and Fiji in the company of his friend, Henry Adams. From this period emerged sketches of island life and landscape studies, mostly in watercolor, and two books by John La Farge, An Artist's Letters from Japan (1897) and Reminiscences of South Seas (1912). Among his other publications are The American Art of Glass, a pamphlet which appeared in 1893, Great Masters (1903), and Noteworthy Paintings in American Collections (1904), which he edited with A.F. Jaccaci. Published lectures by La Farge include Considerations on Painting (1895), The Higher Life in Art (1908), and Hokusai: A Talk About Hokusai (1897), a study of a Japanese artist that is indicative of La Farge's life-long interest in Oriental art.

La Farge received honorary degrees from Yale in 1896 and 1901, and from Princeton in 1904. One of the first members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, La Farge was also president of the Society of American Artists and of the Society of Mural Painters.

John La Farge died in Providence, R.I., on November 14, 1910, and was buried in New York City.

For a chronology of exhibitions of the work of John La Farge from 1862 to 1935, see the Index of Twentieth Century Artists, February, 1936, in these papers (Series V, box 8, folder 18). For the years after 1935, the following incomplete list of exhibitions may be helpful to the researcher:

"An Exhibition of the Work of John La Farge," Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1936 Mar 2-Apr 26

"John La Farge - Winslow Homer," Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 1936 Jun 25-Aug 16

Tercentenary Exhibition, Newport, R.I., Art Association, 1936 Jul 25-Aug 16

"John La Farge, 1835-1910," loan exhibition, Macbeth Gallery, New York City, 1948 Apr 26-May 15

"150 Years of American Drawing, 1780-1930, from the Collection of John Davis Hatch," Williams College Museum of Art, 1965 Oct 25-Nov 15

"John La Farge, 1835-1910," Graham Gallery, New York City, 1966 May 4-Jun 10

"John La Farge, Oils and Watercolors," Kennedy Galleries, Inc., New York City, 1968 Jan 24-Feb 14

"American Still Life Painting, 1860-1900," Adelson Galleries, Inc., Boston, 1968 Nov 4-30

"John La Farge, Drawings and Watercolors," Toledo Museum of Art, 1968 Winter

"Back Bay Boston; the City as a Work of Art," Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 1969 Nov
Guide to the La Farge Family Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Katharine Morton and John Espy
February 1973
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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