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 Charles William Bartlett  (1860 - 1940)

About: Charles William Bartlett


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Lived/Active: New York/Hawaii / United Kingdom      Known for: portrait painting, wood-block print-Oriental themes

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BIOGRAPHY for Charles Bartlett
1860 (Bridport, Dorsetshire, England)
1940 (Honolulu, Hawaii)

New York/Hawaii / United Kingdom

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portrait painting, wood-block print-Oriental themes

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Artists who painted Hawaii
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Known for watercolor paintings and woodblock prints, especially of scenes from his travels through Southeast Asia, China, and later Hawaii, Charles Bartlett was born and raised in England.  He first work in a metallurgical company and then at the age of twenty-three began a fine-art career by enrolling for three years at the Royal Academy in London.  Then he went to Paris to study at the Academie Julian in Paris. In 1889, he returned to England and married but lost his wife and infant son in childbirth.

He spent a year traveling in Europe with his friend and fellow artist, Frank Brangwyn, and painted most figure works of peasant women and children, likely working through his grief at his own personal loss.  Later he did landscapes as well as peasant genre, and worked in both oil and watercolor.  He was especially commended for his watercolors, and in recognition of this skill, was one of the first 25 members elected to the prestigious group, Societe Peinture a l'Eau, in Paris.

In the following years, Bartlett returned to England, remarried in 1898, and exhibited several oil paintings including at the Royal Academy and the Salon des Beaux Arts. At this time, he became interested in printmaking, especially etchings.

In 1913, he and his wife began a year and a half sketching and painting trip to India and also went to Ceylon, Indonesia, and China. In 1915, they arrived in Tokyo, Japan.  There they met the Austrian artist Fritz Capelari who introduced them to publisher Watanabe Shozaburo.  From this meeting Bartlett and Watanabe formed a collaboration whereby Bartlett's watercolors were made into woodblock prints. Bartlett used Watanabe print shop as a work place for carving, and the resulting prints had simple designs and flat areas of rich color in styles ranging from modern to traditional.

In 1917, Bartlett and his wife Catherine went to Hawaii intending after a short visit to return to England, but they were so enamored with the scenery and people of Hawaii that they settled in Honolulu.  Working as an association of Watanabe, Bartlett designed woodblocks that were made into prints.  He and his wife continued to travel widely, and attended print exhibitions on the mainland United States.  However, they built their life in Hawaii, being active in the art community and making good income from his printmaking activity, although Bartlett also received portrait commissions from wealthy, prominent Hawaiians.

During the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, most of Bartlett's woodblocks were destroyed, but Watanabe was able to salvage some from his collection as was Bartlett, so prints continued to be made throughout the 1920s.  After Bartlett's death in 1940, the remaining blocks for his prints were scored to prevent reprinting

In 1928, Bartlett was a key organizer of the Honolulu Printmakers as well as local artists A.S. Macleod, John Kelly and Huc Luquiens.  From 1929, the group has held an annual exhibition at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, and with each exhibition, they offer a gift limited edition print by an outstanding member.  In 1933, Bartlett was chosen to create the very first gift print, a color etching called Java, depicting an Indonesian peasant family returning home after a day's work, against a background of rice paddies and palm trees.

In 1939, the Honolulu Academy held a major exhibition of Bartlett's work with 63 paintings and prints.  He died the following year at the age of eighty.  In 2001, the
Honolulu Academy of Arts held a retrospective including all of his woodblock print designs as well as a collection of original works in oil and watercolor.

Peter Falk, Who's Who in American Art
David Forbes: Encounters With Paradise

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from David Dolan, a relative of the artist:

To date, the single most important publication regarding Bartlett is: A Printmaker in Paradise: The Art and Life of Charles W. Bartlett, Richard Miles and Jennifer Saville.  This work includes a catalogue raisonne of etchings and woodblock prints as well as a selection of signatures, titles and seals useful to the scholar/collector and a comprehensive bibliography.  It was my great pleasure and an honor to also have been associated with this work.

The most recent exhibition of Bartlett's work occurred in Honolulu at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, November 15, 2001 - January 6, 2002. The title of the exhibition was the same as of the above mentioned publication.

Biography from Douglas Frazer Fine Art, Ltd.:
Though he started out as a chemist, English-born Charles Bartlett found his true calling in art, which he pursued full-time beginning in 1883.

As a young man, he studied at the Royal Academy in London and at the Julian Academy in Paris, where, in addition to the Salon des Beaux Arts, he exhibited his early work. At this time he was known primarily for his watercolors and etchings.

Bartlett left Europe in the early 1900s and traveled to Asia where he spent three years exploring the beauty and culture of India, China, and Japan. These experiences provided the subject matter for his art throughout his lifetime. It was while in Japan that Bartlett learned the art of woodblock printing, and he became famous for this technique.

Others would argue that he was most famous for his portraits, and that he was Hawaii’s leading portraitist in the early 20th century. Bartlett went to Hawaii in February 1917 intending to stay only a brief time, but given the enthusiastic reception he received, ended up staying.

His first Hawaiian exhibition (of watercolors and woodblock prints) took place at the Charles Cooke mansion, and was quite successful. Thereafter, he became a frequent exhibitor at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, including having a solo show there in 1939.

He died in Honolulu in 1940, remembered as one of Hawaii’s most beloved artists.

Sources include:
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art
David Forbes, Encounters With Paradise.

By Sarah Nelson

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