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 Victoria Kawekiu Kaiulani  (1875 - 1899)

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Lived/Active: Hawaii      Known for: floral still life, botanics

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Princess Victoria Kaiulani Cleghorn is primarily known as Victoria Kawekiu Kaiulani

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Ad Code: 4
Victoria Kawekiu Kailuani
Poppies, 1890 (o/c).
Painted while she was spending time at Great Harrowden Hall,
near Wellingborough, Scotland

Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:

Perhaps the most beautiful and tragic figure in Hawaiian history, Princess Kaiulani, as she was known, was heir to the Hawaiian throne. A skilled artist, the princess often painted floral subjects in oil on canvas. Kaiulani demonstrated a keen eye for botanical observation and sensitivity to compositional elegance.

She would have succeeded Queen Liliuokalani, had the queen not been deposed. The queen, fifty-two at the time of her (1891) ascension and childless, had named her niece, Kaiulani, as her successor. Kaiulani's mother was Princess Miriam Likelike, younger sister of King Kalakaua. Her father, Scottsman Archibald Cleghorn, had arrived in Hawaii in 1851 as a young man. Cleghorn became a merchant, politician, member of Hawaii's House of Nobles, and finally governor of Oahu. Kaiulani was born shortly after her uncle, David Kalakaua, was crowned king.

Kaiulani led a privileged childhood, aimed at grooming her for her potential role as Hawaii's leader and queen. Even as a child she represented her nation, the Hawaiian Kingdom. When King Kalakaua toured the world in 1881, he is said to have suggested a future royal marriage between Kaiulani, then five years old, and a Japanese prince, as a way of cementing the two countries. (p. 66, Finding Paradise).

Princess Kaiulani was given ten acres of land, called the Ainahau estate (now near the site of the Princess Kaiulani Hotel in Honolulu), by her godmother Princess Ruth. It was there that Kaiulani's father, Archibald Cleghorn, built a two-story house for the princess that later became the social center of Waikiki. Five hundred royal palms were planted there in her honor. Robert Lewis Stevenson, the British author, was one of many famous visitors, and he became a close friend to the princess. From Ainahau's beachfront she enjoyed swimming and surfing, and was regarded as an expert surf-rider from around 1895 to 1899. Kaiulani's mother died in 1887, and after two years in the care of governesses, the young girl left for schooling in England, accompanied by her guardian Theophilus H. Davies. There she studied at Harrowden Hall, about sixty miles outside London. She did well in her studies, and showed herself to be a talented musician, linguist, equestrian, as well as artist. It is said that Kaiulani could converse in French, German, English and Hawaiian. Coming from a musically inclined family, she also played the guitar and ukulele.

Kaiulani was sixteen when her aunt, the childless queen, appointed her heir apparent to the throne. She was eighteen when the reign of the queen, Liliuokalani, King Kalakaua's sister and successor, was ended in 1893 in an overthrow by individuals influential in business and government. The princess' aunt, the queen, was placed under house arrest, and the country was ultimately annexed to the United States. When the monarchy was overthrown, Kaiulani traveled from school in England to Washington, D.C. with Davies in 1893, where President Grover Cleveland received her and she appealed to the U.S. government to restore the throne. Unsuccessful, Kaiulani and Davies returned to England.

She traveled through Scotland and the continent with her father, and then returned to Hawaii in 1897, where she settled into life as a private citizen at the Ainahau estate.

Because of her education in Europe and her travel experiences, Kaiulani had seen many of the world's great paintings. In Hawaii, she also knew numerous artists, including Joseph Strong, and was friends with his wife, Isobel, who was herself an artist. As did many young women of the nineteenth century well-versed in traditional Western areas of female accomplishment, Kaiulani often selected floral still life for her own subjects, such as 'Poppies' (1890 oil on canvas). She showed considerable talent as an artist, and sadly her life was cut short at twenty-three, when she died on Oahu, never having fully recovered from a yearlong illness. Her death in 1899 was a serious blow to the aspirations of Hawaiians, and an artistic loss as well.

Don Severson, "Finding Paradise"
Website of Sheraton Hotel Princess Kaiulani

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Princess Kaiulani Cleghorn is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Artists who painted Hawaii

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