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Overview

In the years following the Civil War, John La Farge sought to forge a style of landscape painting that broke from the then-dominant aesthetic of the Hudson River School. Rather than use a carefully arranged view to convey the splendor of the natural world, as was favored by artists of this school, La Farge instead sought to demonstrate that painting directly from nature – what he called "copying nature" – could produce successful landscapes.  The Last Valley—Paradise Rocks is not only one of the key works of that endeavor but one of the greatest achievements of 19th-century American landscape painting. La Farge himself considered it a culminating moment of his early years as a painter and one of the most important paintings of his entire career.

For The Last Valley, La Farge set up a temporary studio on a high vantage point in the Paradise Hills near Newport, Rhode Island, overlooking Bishop Berkeley's Rock. The view plunges dramatically into space, with the ridges flanking the valley alternately bathed in the light of sunset and cloaked in shadow. La Farge carefully controlled his handling of paint, varying freely brushed passages of the immediate foreground with tighter, more geologically structured passages of the rock face of the ridge at left. As a result, The Last Valley has both a vibrant immediacy and a grandly solemn monumentality in its evocation of the timeless beauty of the natural world.

La Farge painted the work during the period 1867–1868 following a serious illness that left him unable to work for several months. Hoping to revive his career, he turned his attention to large landscapes suitable for public exhibitions. As with his earlier small landscapes, he painted almost entirely outdoors. Given the time the #plein air# process entailed, La Farge ultimately completed only two of these large-scale paintings: The Last Valley—Paradise Rocks, and the slightly earlier Paradise Valley (Chicago, Terra Foundation for American Art).

Over the course of his long and successful career, La Farge produced inventive work in an unrivaled variety of media including oil, watercolor, encaustic, and stained glass, and received several important mural commissions for churches, government buildings, and private homes.

Provenance

The artist; (his sale, Pierce and Company, Boston, 19-20 November 1878, no. 18); Alexander Agassiz, Newport; by descent in his family to private collection, Boston; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, New York, 29 November 2000, no. 47); purchased by (Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York) for NGA.

Exhibition History
1869
Fall Exhibition, Brooklyn Art Association, 1869, no. 233.
1870
First Summer Exhibition, National Academy of Design, New York, 1870, no. 354.
1871
Third Annual Exhibition of the Yale School of the Fine Arts, Yale School of the Fine Arts, New Haven, 1871, no. 86.
1872
Doll and Richards, Boston, January 1872.
1873
Seventh Exhibition of the Society of French Artists, Society of French Artists, London, 1873, no. 18.
1874
Salon, Société Nationale des Artistes Français, Palais du Champs-Elysees, Paris, 1874, no. 1039.
1876
International Exhibition [Centennial Exposition], Philadelphia, 1876, no. 5 under United States.
1878
First Exhibition, Society of American Artists at Kurtz gallery, Society of American Artists, New York, 1878, no. 6.
1966
John La Farge, Graham Gallery, New York, 1966, no. 21.
1995
John La Farge in Paradise: The Painter and His Muse, William Vareika Fine Arts, Newport, 1995, no. 10, repro.
Bibliography
1870
Benson, E. "The Annual Exhibition of the Academy." Putnam's Magazine (June 1870): 704-705.
1870
"National Academy of Design: First Notice." New York Evening Post (27 April 1870): 1.
1870
"National Academy of Design: Third Notice." New York Evening Post (10 June 1870): 1.
1872
James, H. "Art." Atlantic Monthly (January 1872): 117.
1874
"The Works of American Artists in the Salon of 1874." New York Evening Post (17 June 1874): 1.
1876
Carter, S.N. "Art at the Exhibition." Appleton's Journal (3 June 1876): 726.
1876
"Local Matters." Newport Mercury (4 November 1876): 2.
1877
Walker, F. A., ed. International Exposition, 1876: Reports and Awards Group 27. Philadelphia, 1877: 113.
1878
"Art and Artists." Boston Evening Transcript (21 November 1878): 6.
1878
Carter, S.N. "First Exhibition of the American Art Association." Art Journal (New York, April 1878): 125.
1878
"Fine Arts: The Society of American Artists." New York Evening Mail (5 March 1878): 4.
1878
"La Farge Paintings." New York World (19 November 1878): 5.
1878
"Old and Young Painters." The New York Times (17 March 1878): 5.
1878
"Sale of Mr. La Farge's Paintings." Boston Daily Advertiser (21 November 1878): 2.
1878
"The La Farge Collection." Boston Globe (21 November 1878): 4.
1878
"The La Farge Paintings." Boston Post (22 November 1878): 3.
1879
Clement, C.E., and L. Hutton. Artists of the Nineteenth Century and Their Works. Boston, 1879: 30.
1885
Dodd, A.B. "John La Farge." Art Journal (London, September 1885): 261-262.
1887
Champlin, John Denison, Jr., and Charles C. Perkins, eds. Cyclopedia of Painters and Paintings. 4 vols. New York, 1887: 4.
1887
Wilson, James Grant, and John Fiske, ed. Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography. 7 vols. New York, 1887-1889: 3:586.
1896
Waern, Cecilia. "John La Farge, Artist and Writer." Portfolio (April 1896): 27-28.
1904
Johnson, R., and J.H. Brown, ed. The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans. Boston, 1904: n.p.
1911
Cortissoz, Royal. John La Farge, A Memoir and a Study. Boston, Massachusetts and New York, 1911: 186.
1912
Michigan State Library. Biographical Sketches of American Artists. Lansing, 1912: 102.
1935
Browne, E.H. "Wizard of the Window." Columbia (March 1935): 19.
1940
Preston, W. American Biographies. New York and London, 1940: 587.
1966
La Farge, Henry A. "John La Farge: A Reappraisal." Art News (May 1966): 58.
1969
Novak, Barbara. American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience. New York, 1969: 256, repro.
1970
Scheyer, E. The Circle of Henry Adams: Art and Artists. Detroit, 1970: 189.
1974
Adams, Henry B. "Letter to the Editor." The Art Bulletin 56, no. 4 (December 1974): 332.
1975
Adams, Henry B. "The Stained Glass of John La Farge." American Art Review (July-August 1975): 59-62, repro.
1977
Weinberg, H. Barbara. The Decorative Work of John La Farge. New York, 1977: 35, fig. 2.
1982
Berenson, Ruth. "John La Farge: America's Old Master." Art and Antiques (May-June 1982): 48, 51-52, repro.
1982
Yarnall, J.L. "John La Farge's New England Pasture Land." Newport History (Summer 1982): 83, repro.
1982
Yarnall, J.L. "John La Farge's The Last Valley." Newport History (Fall 1982): 131-140, repro.
1983
La Farge, Henry A. "John La Farge and the 1878 Auction of his Works." The American Art Journal (Summer 1983): 19-22, repro.
1985
Tatham, David. "Elihu Vedder's Lair of the Sea Serpent." The American Art Journal (Spring 1985): 37-38, repro.
1987
Adams, H. "The Mind of John La Farge." In John La Farge. New York, 1987: 29, pl. 58.
1987
American Paradise: The Art of the Hudson River School. Exh. cat. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1987: 79-81, fig. 4.11.
1987
Foster, K.A. "John La Farge and the American Watercolor Movement: Art for the 'Decorative Age'." In John La Farge. New York, 1987: 133.
1987
Weisberg, G.P. "On the Art and Exhibition of John La Farge." Arts Magazine (October 1987): 34.
1987
Yarnall, J.L. "Nature and Art in the Painting of John La Farge." In John La Farge. New York, 1987: 89-92, repro.
1990
Fink, Lois Marie. American Art at the Nineteenth Century Paris Salons. Cambridge, 1990: 230-231, 264, repro.
1990
Gerdts, W.H. Art Across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting 1710-1920. New York, 1990: 91.
1990
Yarnall, James L. John La Farge: Watercolors and Drawings. New York, 1990: 31.
1995
[exhibition advertisement]. Antiques (May 1995): 655, repro.
1995
Pantalone, J. "Master and His Muse." Newport This Week (6 April 1995): 12, repro.
1995
Reimer, R.E. "Newport Gallery Exhibits Artist John La Farge's Work." Newport Daily News (7 April 1995): C3.
1995
Van Siclen, B. "Scenes from Paradise." Providence Journal-Bulletin (21 April 1995): D1, D8, repro.
1995
Yarnall, J.L. John La Farge in Paradise: The Painter and His Muse. Newport, Rhode Island, 1995: 115-120, repro.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 328-329, no. 265, color repro.