John La Farge was born in New York of a wealthy family.
La Farge studied art at home and briefly, in 1856, in the Paris studio of Thomas Couture. He later studied with William Morris Hunt. In 1857, La Farge visited the Manchester Art Treasures exhibition and was much impressed by the Pre Raphaelites. He developed an interest in the 1870s in mural painting and stained glass. These two interests became a focus for the rest of his career.
His first major commission was for H. H. Richardson's Trinity Church, Boston in 1877. He also designed murals for St Thomas's Church, New York (1878), the Church of the Ascension, also in New York (1888), the Walker Art Building at Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, (1898), the Minnesota State Capitol (1905) and Baltimore Court house (1907).
From 1856, he collected Japanese prints and began to explore Japonisme in art. In 1886 La Farge travelled to Japan with the writer Henry Adams (1838-1918). La Farge was also the author of books and essays including ' An Essay on Japanese Art ' in Across America and Asia, ed. by R. Pumpelly (1870), pp. 195-202; and An Artist's Letters from Japan (1897) and Reminiscences of the South Seas (1916).
Waern, C., John La Farge: Artist and Writer, London, 1896; Cortissoz, Royal, John La Farge: A Memoir and a Study, Boston, 1911; Katz, R. B., John La Farge as Painter and Critic, thesis, Radcliffe College, MA, 1951; Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, Paris, 1956-61; Weinberg, H. B., The Decorative Work of John La Farge New York and London, 1977; Adams, H., 'John La Farge's Discovery of Japanese Art ', Art Bulletin, LXVII, 1985, pp. 449–85; Yarnall, J. L., John La Farge: Watercolours and Drawings, exhibition catalogue, New York, Hudson River Museum; Utica, NY, Munson Williams Proctor Institute, 1990–91.