Our AskART list of artists includes a wide-ranging gamut of people with an equally wide-ranging gamut of motives for depicting the landscape and inhabitants of Hawaii and/or the South Seas. The earliest artists were paid for their ability to accurately record what they saw, and many of their successors such as Theodore Wores or Jessie Arms Botke went purely for the enjoyment of painting the beauty they saw.
Some painters such as Jean Michel Basquiat jetted to Hawaii to combine the making and selling of artwork with fast-paced, partying that was easily obtainable in a land that embraced its visitors with mild weather, seemingly unbounded water, and beautiful, uninhibited people.
From the mid-20th Century, air transportation has made travel back and forth from the mainland of the United States to Hawaii and other South Sea islands relatively easy, but interestingly 133 artists on this AskART list were born before 1900- meaning they had more in mind than a vacation trip to a so-called exotic land.
Hawaii was annexed to the United States in 1898 and became the fiftieth state in 1959. But long before these calendar-marked events, the South Sea Pacific Islands were destinations for artists, many of them traveling with official expeditions, whose members spread the word through written reports and paintings of remarkable physical beauty of land, sea, and native people.
The earliest born we document are British-explorer artists William Ellis and John Webber on the James Cook Expedition in 1778 and John Sykes on the Captain George Vancouver Expedition in the 1880s. In their travels, they were also mapping and doing topographical studies in the United States, which explains their being on a list of North American artists. When Webber returned to England, he oversaw the making of engravings of his sketches from Hawaii and was so highly praised for his efforts that he was elected a member of the Royal Academy.
Several of the earliest born artists on the AskART list crossed the American continent before they crossed the Pacific Ocean. Joseph Drayton, born 1795, and Titian Ramsey Peale, born 1799, traveled from Philadelphia and were on the United States Exploring Expedition led by Lieutenant Charles Wilkes. Peale, a naturalist, is the first documented artist to paint the smoldering volcanic landscape. Alfred Agate, born 1812, and from Washington DC., was also a member of the Wilkes Expedition and painted the first recorded portraits of Hawaiian royalty.
The earliest professional artist to visit the islands was John Mix Stanley from Michigan, who arrived in 1848, and spent a year painting portraits in Hawaii of aristocrats and members of the royal family. Although most were painters, some of the artists were sculptors such as Allen Hutchinson, who settled in Hawaii and carved Hawaiian figures. David Howard Hitchcock was the first artist of distinction born in Hawaii, trained in Paris, and then a returnee to his native place.
Seventy-seven names on the list belong to resident artists of California, the earliest born being John Prendergast, Charles Nahl, and William Cogswell. A California artist almost synonymous with Hawaii is Enoch Wood Perry, who visited in 1864 and painted landscapes and portraits. His landscapes, many of them commissioned by a sugar mill owner on Maui, are among the earliest extant paintings of Hawaiian scenery. It appears the most prominent of the Californians in the late 19th century was Jules Tavernier, whose volcano paintings were key factors in popularizing Hawaii on the mainland. He also did a 90 foot panoramic mural of Kilauea, exhibited in Hawaii and then in San Francisco.
Some of the most recent born are also three of the top highest dollar in the marketplace on this list: Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, and John Michael Basquiat, with the other two highest dollar being late 19th century born Georgia O'Keeffe and early 19th century John Mix Stanley.
Twenty-eight women are listed, and the first professional woman artist in Hawaii was Margaret Gillin, a Californian who went to Honolulu in 1880 and became the first artist there to earn a reputation for still life. Lillie Gay Torrey was, for many years, the most popular still-life painter.
A drawback of this list is the possibility of omission of names of late 20th century artists because Hawaii and South Sea subject matter is not as noteworthy as it was in earlier times because of the ease of transportation. So, please, if you know an artist who should be added to this list, let us know.
If you have information to contribute on this subject, contact us via email: registrar@AskART.com