Posts Tagged ‘John La Farge’

Detail from Presentation of the Virgin (after Titian) by John La Farge, 1888

At Trinity Church in the City of Boston, there is the stained glass window, Faith, by Burlison & Grylls of London, installed in 1877-1878. It was given in memory of Charles Hook Appleton and Isabella Mason by their teenaged daughters Julia and Marian Alice, known as The Appleton Sisters.  The two sisters were extremely close. They lived together on Beacon Street and purchased adjoining property in Lenox, MA. 

Julia and Marian Alice Appleton

Julia and Marian Alice Appleton

Eventually, the oldest daughter Julia would meet and marry noted architect Charles McKim, a colleague and friend of the artist John La Farge.  Sister Alice would marry George Von Lengerke Meyer. As did many families of their social circle the McKims traveled extensively and often throughout Europe. In Venice they visited the galleries and in that city one of Julia’s favorite paintings was Titian’s Presentation of the Virgin, 1534-1538.

In 1887, Julia would unexpectedly die during childbirth. The grieving McKim, along with sister Alice, would commission John La Farge to create a window in Julia’s memory.  La Farge would select as focus a small portion of Titian’s large canvas. The window would be designed and completed within five months.

The window depicts a young girl climbing steps and symbolizes Julia’s climb toward heaven.  Below this image and considered separate from the story is the image of an angel playing a musical instrument. It is a spectacular window at any time of day but especially when the sun is shining just right through the opalescent and painted glass. For this series of images, that perfect time was approximately 1pm on a sunny day.

La Farge’s early sketch can be found at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the actual window is located on the south wall of Trinity Church located in Boston’s Copley Square.

Sources & Additional Reading

Trinity Church Tours


Presentation of the Virgin

early sketch by La Farge


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Trinity Church in the City of Boston has produced a new guidebook that highlights and explores the art and architectural features of this historic gem. The 48-pages feature information about the principal makers of the building, its design and construction which primarily took place between 1872-1877, interior and exterior decorations, and much more. It is a visual treat with reproductions of original sketches, early watercolor paintings, as well as interior and exterior images by many fine local photographers. I am honored to have two photos in this book including this detail from John La Farge’s Purity stained glass window.

As noted at the end of the publication, the guidebook is dedicated to Edward Earl Duffy (1960-2012), a Trinity Church parishioner and tour guide who loved the building’s art and architectural legacy. The book is available for $11.95 in the church gift shop. Enjoy!


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detail from stained glass window christ preaching by john la farge (1883)

Christ Preaching is a three story clerestory window located on the west end of Trinity Church in the City of Boston.  Beautiful at any time of day, because of its location, it especially comes to life as the sun begins to set.

Sometimes when tourists enter Trinity the first words they literally ask is, “Are there any Tiffany windows here?” When they learn that the answer is no, they will shrug, albeit politely, and walk away. And I can only shake my head, knowing firsthand what they are walking away from.

Learn more …



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When I first photographed the John La Farge mural Christ Woman at the Well inside Trinity Church in the City of Boston it was late afternoon and I had a much simpler point and shoot camera. The photograph turned out just fine. As I progress as a photographer though it has been fun to revisit works photographed in the past. These photos were taken with a more advanced camera and in the light of the early morning sun shining onto the mural.



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Morning light falling on the north wall of the nave in Trinity Church in the City of Boston. It has been my pleasure to photograph the stained glass windows over the years but this particular morning I focused my camera on the decorative features of one wall.  Zooming in you can see the elegance of the design orchestrated by John La Farge. The ravages of time are present and so is the enduring beauty of an architectural masterpiece.

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Learn more about Trinity’s Art and History tours at trinitychurchboston.org/art-history/tours

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detail from rice memorial window “christ the light of the world”

As you travel along Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, just outside of Porter Square, you will find St. James’s Episcopal Church, a beautiful stone structure designed by Henry Martyn Congdon in a Richardsonian Romanesque style. While the church was founded in 1864, the cornerstone of the particular building in which I peered today was laid in 1888.  Inside is quite a variety of stained and painted glass (and a bell re-cast by Paul Revere!).

While I visited at the wrong time of day and time of year for the best effect, the opalescent windows along the west wall still caught my attention. I visited in early morning in spring but for the windows to be seen as their designers — John La Farge and possibly Tiffany — intended, I will need to visit again in winter in the late afternoon just before sunset.

detail from "jesus the good shepherd"by john la farge

detail from “jesus the good shepherd” by john la farge

I’ve already marked my calendar. 🙂

detail from the batchelder-dexter window, “the mission of the seventy”

I’m still sorting through pictures and their stories. More to come from my delightful visit. Meanwhile you can learn more about the church, its people and the history of the building here: http://www.stjames-cambridge.org/

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watercolor study for purity, a stained glass window at trinity church in copley square

John La Farge and the Recovery of the Sacred is an exhibit at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College.  This free exhibit concludes December 13, 2015. I am most familiar with La Farge’s murals and stained glass windows at Trinity Church in Copley Square. Complex is a term often used to describe La Farge’s work, and I have a better understanding why after seeing this exhibit.

study for presentation of the virgin, a stained glass window at trinity church in copley square

It was a treat to see the range of his artistic talent expressed in pen and ink sketches, watercolors, oil paintings, wood block prints and of course in stained glass.

watercolor study by John La Farge

watercolor study by John La Farge

watercolor study for bishop hatto and the rats illustration

He may have been horrible at self-promotion, unlike his contemporary and supposedly one-time friend Louis Tiffany, but La Farge was certainly visionary when it came to manipulating light, colors and texture to capture particular moments, such as from his travels in Japan and the South Seas, and to tell stories both spiritual and secular.

tromple l’oeil curtain stained glass window by john la farge

Well worth a trip if you’re in the area. Further details can be found on the museum website: http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/cas/artmuseum/visitor-information/index.html

Additional links

John La Farge and the Recovery of the Sacred Exhibit


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As I read Maitland Armstrong’s words, I heard David McCullough’s voice as he narrated Ken Burn’s The Civil War.  Maitland Armstrong (1836-1918) did many things during his long life but I was particularly interested in his journey as painter and stained glass designer.  I’d first learned about him as part of my research into the artists involved with decorating Trinity Church.  Maitland’s name had surfaced as a friend and contemporary of John LaFarge.

I chanced upon his memoir, Day Before Yesterday: Reminiscences of a Varied Life, published posthumously in 1920.  It opens, “I was born on the 15th of April, 1836, at Danskammer on the Hudson, near Newburgh.” In it he writes with great affection for his family and especially his mother.  He describes her southern roots, how she would sometimes leave New York to winter in Charleston, South Carolina, and how she nurtured his interest in painting before her death in 1853.

I had planned to skim Armstrong’s memoir focusing on his friendships with people like John La Farge and Augustus St. Gaudens.  In the table of contents, there is a chapter, St. Gaudens and Others.  But there was also a chapter, The South Before the War.  What did this artist have to say about such a time and place?

Well, what he does is describe in great detail, by painting with words, life in the south on a small network of plantations and the neighboring environs.  Even with his blood ties to a number of the families, he reports with a northern perspective.  He enjoys the hunting and accepts the slavery.  He learns a new language about the poor whites known as crackers and the slave assigned to him, his little darky.

It was in 1853, perhaps after the death of his mother, that Armstrong and his brothers traveled to Charleston.  There, while he is staying with relatives, the Wilkins family, they drive to their plantation Kelvin Grove, where Armstrong describes there was “a nice little village of comfortable white cabins for the negroes. But there always was in evidence a driver, as he was called, who was a superior negro and carried a whip.

He visited several family relations while in the South, from the Wilkins to his cousins, the Screvens.

The detachment with which Armstrong is able to describe the scenes that took place around him in the south (and in a later chapter his description of turmoil in New York) make clear his compassion for others but also his upper class background that separated him from those others.

At the end of the chapter Armstrong describes how that period in the south was one of the most delightful times in his life.  No cares, no worries. He would receive a letter decades letter from a family member describing the loss of the plantations and the slaves, the occupation by Union troops, and the auctioning off of property to pay debts.

Armstrong would return to New York, attend the very best schools, and travel the world.  His life was truly varied serving as student and teacher in several different fields.  As a stained glass artist he would collaborate on masterpieces with his daughter, Helen Maitland Armstrong.  He would serve as a Consul General in Rome.  And near the end of his days, he decided to chronicle that life.

For anyone researching artists of a particular generation who ran in the same circles – La Farge, St. Gaudens, McKim, White, etc – this book could be an interesting resource. Armstrong describes personal vignettes of how these people interacted socially and appreciated each others work.  You could even completely ignore that chapter about the south.  But I think that chapter is important because, from a different source, it shines a light on life in the past … and it is that past that is the shaky foundation upon which we continue to try to build a brighter future in this country.

Nativity: Design for the Stickney Memorial Window, Faith Chapel, Jekyll Island, Georgia, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Nativity: Design for the Stickney Memorial Window, Faith Chapel, Jekyll Island, Georgia, Metropolitan Museum of Art


Sources/Additional Readings

Day Before Yesterday: Reminiscences of a Varied Life, 1920

Old Glass New Windows by Will H. Low, Scribner’s Magazine, Volume 4, 1888

Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Collection Online

Wikipedia — Maitland Armstrong

Year Books of the Architectural League of New York (late 1800s, early 1900s)


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More details from the interior of Trinity Church in the City of Boston. Here we have a close up of the messenger in the stained glass window, The Resurrection, by John LaFarge.

In the March 1902 issue of The Church Standard, the window was described in this way:  “A beautiful memorial window has been added to the group in the north transept of Trinity Church.  It tells the story of the first easter morning.  In the background the purple clouds of morning are hanging, growing lighter as they seem to touch the low lying hills to the rear of the empty sepulchre, and their tints show the approaching dawn.  The flowing white garments of the risen Christ reflect the purple tints of the darker clouds … Upon the ground, reclining his head against the tomb, is the sleeping guard whose uniform makes a bright touch of coloring against the sombre hues of the walls.  A messenger nearby … [his] graceful garments of crimson and gold stand out in deep and inviting contrast.”

That same month, a reporter for the Boston Evening Transcript newspaper also notes the color: “The color is in the artist’s strongest and most brilliant vein, and is especially remarkable for its aerial tones of graduated blues and greens … In no stained glass work by LaFarge has he carried his extraordinary personal sense of color to a more complete measure of depth and significance.  It will, therefore, rank among his most important and characteristic work in this congenial medium.”  The window was commissioned by Charles A. Welch in memory of his wife Mary Love Boott Welch who died in 1899.

I’ve had the opportunity to photograph this window several times over the years.  But this particular day was special.  A friend had let me borrow her tripod and another friend had unexpectedly allowed me to access a place not often accessible so I could have new vantage points where I could focus on details I’d never focused on before … like five toes on a foot.

Of course, the whole is magnificent as well.

Whatever one’s vantage point, it is a lovely window to behold.  Learn more here:  Trinity Church Art & History

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You’ll find  Ieposolyma-The New Jerusalem in an area known as the north transept of Trinity Church in Copley Square.  It is an upper level window that rests beside another John La Farge masterpiece, The Resurrection (1902).  The New Jerusalem was completed and installed eight years earlier in 1884.

As described by scholar James L. Yarnall in his biographical study of John La Farge, this window depicts “the vision of the New Jerusalem described in the book of Revelation. The design fused Byzantine architecture and Mannerist figures from Correggio with a dazzling array of jeweled opalescent glasses.”

If you’re in Boston, see firsthand how the sunlight shines through all of this magnificent glass — this window apparently contains every kind of glass La Farge ever used including pressed jewels, confetti glass, and opalescent glass.  Tour information available here.

I tend to focus on the pieces that make up the whole, but if you search online you’ll find some photographs of the whole window, like this one.

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