Born in Hagerstown, Maryland, Fernand Lungren was raised in Toledo, Ohio, the son of a prominent physician who pioneered the use of the caesarian section in America. Lungren’s early desire to pursue art as a career didn’t please his scientifically minded father. To satisfy the family, the young man did as his older brother had done, and enrolled in an engineering course at the University of Michigan. He studied mining engineering and worked at the college’s natural history museum, but art was the fixed star in his firmament, and he dropped out after two years to return to Ohio and become an artist. While Lungren’s commitment to a career in art remained constant ever after, his habit, manifest early in life, of physical restlessness, also remained a constant, as Lungren shuttled between New York, Europe, Ohio (with brief stops in Pennsylvania and New Jersey), and then the American West.
When Lungren proposed to follow his Toledo friend, Kenyon Cox, to Paris, in 1876, his father balked. Shortly after, faced with his son’s determined unsuitability for any other profession, Dr. Lungren relented and agreed to finance the young man’s study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in company with a Cincinnati artist, Robert Blum. Lungren stayed at the Pennsylvania Academy for a short while, possibly studying with Thomas Eakins. He joined Blum in New York City in 1877, and, in 1880, the two Ohio artists shared a rented studio on Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. Both men were talented illustrators and found ready work in the burgeoning New York-based magazine publishing trade. But while their bread and butter confined them to linear drawings reproduced in a limited palette of black and white, Blum and Lungren were powerfully attracted to the brilliant colors and broken brushwork of the Spanish painter, Mariano Fortuny. Blum was America’s greatest follower of Fortuny, and because of his emulation of Fortuny’s scintillating style was given the affectionate sobriquet “Blumtuny” by his friends. Blum and Lungren were for a time an inseparable pair, and Lungren was bestowed the equally affectionate nickname, “Blumgren.”
In 1882, Lungren sailed to France with the members of the Tile Club, a group of artists that included his studio-mate, Blum, and also William Merritt Chase. In Paris, Lungren reconnected with Kenyon Cox, who introduced him to the Académie Julian, a favorite instruction venue for American painters. Lungren studied briefly at Julian and then, ever questing, and ever impatient with academic instruction, went on to Genoa, and looked in at the academy there. Lungren stayed in Europe, based in Paris, until 1884. When he returned to New York, he resumed his successful career as an illustrator, working for such well-known national magazines as The Century, St. Nicholas, Harper’s and Scribner’s.
During the next few years, Lungren shuttled between Ohio and New York (with a possible stay in Boston around 1886). In 1890, Lungren opened a commercial art studio in Cincinnati. In 1892, he was among a group of artists who accepted an offer from the Santa Fe Railroad for free travel to the West in return for painting western scenes, an offer made on the premise that images of western grandeur would spur tourism. The trip proved a determining event in Lungren’s life. His old interests in geology and natural history were rekindled and he acquired a lifelong attachment to western scenery and subject matter in the territories of Arizona and New Mexico. He spent nearly a year in the West, transfixed by the natural spectacle and fascinated by the practices of the Hopi Indians. Through the 1890s Lungren alternated Ohio and New York residency with extended trips West, while at the same time serving as the first instructor in illustration at the school of the Cincinnati Art Museum. Lungren exhibited regularly, through the 1890s, at the annual shows of the Art Institute of Chicago, contributing principally watercolors and pastels. His subjects reflected both his urban and western experiences.
In 1895, Lungren met his future wife, Henrietta Whipple, who shared his enthusiasm for the American West and American Indian customs. The couple married in New York in 1898, and embarked, in April 1899, on a delayed honeymoon trip to England. The Lungrens rented quarters on Edward Square in the West Kensington section of London, which remained their home for two-and-a-half years. Lungren’s work was well received in England, particularly his series of London street scenes reminiscent of earlier views of New York and Paris. In 1902, the year after he returned to the United States, Lungren exhibited twenty-five works in pastel and watercolor at the Chicago Art Institute, a mix of urban London scenes and Egyptian subjects. He listed his address then as Nutley, New Jersey.
The Lungrens moved to Los Angeles in 1903, and, in 1906, settled permanently in Santa Barbara. Henrietta Lungren died in 1917. Thereafter Lungren threw himself into civic art activities in Santa Barbara, as he continued to travel to nearby locales to paint desert scenes and American Indian subjects.