Although Henry Farny was born and trained in Europe, his reputation as an artist is based on his paintings of Native Americans and the American West. His family emigrated from Ribeauville in Alsace, France, to western Pennsylvania in 1853, when Farny was six. There, while living in a remote and primitive area, Farny first encountered Native Americans. Six years later the Farny family traveled by flatboat to Cincinnati, where Henry began his art training and his career as an illustrator for Harper Brothers.
After his first trip to the West in 1881, Farny began his initial group of Native American paintings in his studio in Cincinnati. He traveled both to Europe and to the American West several times, but remained mostly in Cincinnati for the rest of his life.
"The Captive" depicts a white prisoner who has been tied to stakes in the ground and is forced to endure the penetrating heat of the sun. It is unlikely that Farny witnessed this scene; probably he based the work on the popular eastern stereotype of the Native American. Farny used the captive's bound and outstretched arms to reiterate the expansive Plains landscape with the tipi inhabitants in the background to counterbalance the torture scene in the foreground. In the fall of 1885, Farny submitted this work to the American Art Association’s exhibition of watercolors, where it was awarded a prize of $250.