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Louis Choris

 (1795 - 1828)
Louis Andrevitch Choris was active/lived in California / Russian Federation, France, Mexico, Ukraine.  Louis Choris is known for botanic sketches Pacific Coast-natives.

Louis Choris

Biography from the Archives of askART

A Ukrainian-born expedition artist in the early 19th century, Louis Choris did some of the first pictorial records of people and places in Hawaii, Alaska, and California.

As a young man, he early enjoyed a reputation among the artists of Saint Petersburg and Moscow where he had done drawings of botanical specimens for the naturalist F.A. Marschall von Bieberstien. At age 20, he was chosen to accompany the voyage of explorer Otto von Kotzebue as official artist. Von Kotzebue's voyage of circumnavigation took place from 1815 to 1817 on a 180-ton brig of the Russian Imperial Navy.

The assignment was to explore the islands of the South Pacific and the northwest coast of America, including Alaska, with the hope of finding a navigable passage to the Atlantic around the northern tip of Alaska. Kotzebue Sound, Alaska bears the German captain's name. (Note from Dean Cummings: indeed, the city of Kotzebue itself. Louis Choris also has a piece of land named after him, the Choris Peninsula. This is located about 50 miles south of Kotzebue, at the southern end of the Baldwin peninsula, extending out toward Chamiso Island. All of these places are contained in the eastern portion of Kotzebue Sound).

The ship, the 'Rurick', spent the month of October, 1816 in the Bay of San Francisco, California, allowing Choris to record in ink and paint the people and land, including Indians in various activities, among them war dancing. One of his illustrations shows a California Indian with hair plumes and flicker bands, dated at San Francisco Mission, 1816. Records of the visit also include the first scientific account of the California Golden Poppy. Choris' works give some of the earliest glimpses of life around San Francisco Bay.

The 'Rurick', continued on to the Pacific, and made two visits to Hawaii, then known as the Sandwich Islands, from November 21 to December 14, 1816, and September 27 to October 14, 1817. Choris created some of the most important images of Hawaii and its people that exist. His sketches are the last view of everyday life while the old feudal order, or kapu system, was still in force.

The artist was skillful in depicting the inhabitants of the islands, and it is apparent that the Hawaiians were at ease with him. His drawings reveal no sense of self-consciousness among the people or activities he depicted. Men, women, and children do not appear to pose, and even dogs are shown continuing about their business. He sketched in the 'urbanized' areas of Kailua, Kona, and Honolulu, where Hawaiians in general and the chiefs in particular were accustomed to the visits of foreigners. They were fascinated by the ability that Choris and others had in transferring portraits and scenes onto paper, and Captain Kotzebue recorded that 'the skill of our painter was much admired'.

The only portraits of Hawaiian King Kamehameha were painted by Choris, and are presently at the Honolulu Academy of Art. It is interesting to note that Hawaiians seem to have calculated age based on other considerations than years. In one work by Choris, Kamehameha is said to have reached the advanced old age traditionally referred to as 'kanaiko'o, or 'being so unsteady that the sound of a cane announces one's arrival'. ('Tammeamea', pencil drawing with watercolor wash, 1819, or possibly 1822). Harry Liebersohn features Choris' Hawaiian work in his article, "Images of Monarchy: Kamehameha I and the Art of Louis Choris" which appeared in the summer 1996-97 issue of Voices (the quarterly journal of the National Library of Australia.

Other of Choris' works while in Hawaii depict native dancing, and provide the opportunity for records of dress at that time. In his records, Captain Kotzebue makes a point that at least one male dancer he witnessed wore no garments at all. Three men Choris depicts wear a very bulky lower garment which resembles a pa'u. The backgrounds of his sketches also depict the way houses and temples were constructed and placed on the land, as well as indigenous plants and trees.

Upon his return from the voyage, Choris was encouraged to publish his drawings, and he produced and sold by subscription a beautiful volume of color lithographs under the title "Picturesque Voyage Around the World" (1822). He returned to Paris and took further study, and in 1827 left for South America and was killed by bandits the following year in Vera Cruz, Mexico.

In 2001, his work was part of the exhibition "A Legacy of Early California Paintings: The Shumate Collection" at the Oakland Museum. This exhibit had a collection of works produced by artists who accompanied the exploratory expeditions that visited the Pacific Coast during the early 19th century. The earliest piece in the exhibition is 'Habitants de la Californie', 1816, was a watercolor depicting three native Californians as illustrated by Choris. Other drawings by Choris are included in a pamphlet entitled "The Archaeology of the Presidio of San Francisco", published by the Department of the Army, U.S. Forces Command.

David Forbes, "Encounters with Paradise"
Peggy and Harold Samuels, "Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West"

Biography from the Archives of askART
Born in Russia on March 22, 1795. Choris studied art in Moscow and made botanical drawings for a naturalist. He then was the official artist for the Otto von Kotzebue expedition of the South Seas and was in San Francisco (then called Yerba Buena) during winter of 1815-16. While there, he did many watercolor sketches of the local Indians, wildlife, the presidio, and the Spanish settlement. Upon returning to France, he published an account of his journey entitled Voyage Pittoresque du Monde which included 12 lithographs of California done from his sketches. While on a later visit to Mexico, he was killed by bandits in Vera Cruz on March 22, 1828. In: Bancroft Library (UC Berkeley).

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
First 100 Years of Painting in California (J. Van Nostrand); California Pictorial (Van Nostrand & Coulter); Artists of the American West (Samuels); Artists of the American West (Doris Dawdy); New York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America (Groce, George C. and David H. Wallace); California on Stone (Peters); Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs, et Graveurs (Bénézit, E); From Frontier to Fire.

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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About  Louis Choris

Born:  1795 - Ickaterinoslav, Ukraine, Russia
Died:   1828 - Vera Cruz, Mexico
Known for:  botanic sketches Pacific Coast-natives

Essays referring to
Louis Choris

Artists who painted Hawaii