In The Art and Thought of John La Farge, author Katie Kresser writes that John La Farge (1835-1910) completed his first sketch of Nicodemus and Christ in 1874. That biblical encounter is a subject that La Farge would depict in several different forms over time. Here is a sketch dated 1877 in the Yale University Art Gallery, and here is an oil painting completed in 1880, now housed at the Smithsonian. He would also create a stained glass window for the Church of the Ascension in New York. The following image, The Visit of Nicodemus to Christ, is a photograph of the mural La Farge painted on the walls of Trinity Church in Boston.
It is one of several murals that La Farge painted inside the building with the aid of assistants like Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Francis D. Millet and Francis Lathrop. I keep photographing them because I think that there is always something new to see and experience.
In the literature of the time period critiquing his work, there is often reference to La Farge’s use of color in the murals that borders on the poetic. For example, “In his “Christ and Nicodemus,” … we find the color quality strongly dominant. … the rich blues vein the draperies and background like the threads in a Flemish tapestry …” (The Churchman newspaper, July 6, 1901).
The beauty of La Farge’s murals is constant but their colors do shift in the light. Different details become present depending upon where one stands and at what time of day.
My favorite is perhaps the painting of David, because of the colors and especially for the expression on the young man’s face.
I had originally titled this post “in his own words” because I came across John La Farge: A Memoir and a Study compiled by Roy Cortissoz, literary and art critic for the New York Tribune, and La Farge’s friend. In the book, completed in 1911 shortly after La Farge’s death in 1910, La Farge reminisces about what it was like painting the murals at Trinity under tight time constraints, in poor health, up high on scaffolding. Reading the words made me appreciate the skills of all the artists even more. If you’d like to read La Farge’ account, begin at the end of page 31 of the book, available online here.