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 Poul August Plum  (1815 - 1876)

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Lived/Active: Denmark      Known for: genre, portrait, figure, Hawaii life

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Ad Code: 4
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Light coming through a mountain wall to a cave
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Poul August Plum was born in Copenhagen in 1815, the son of a wine merchant. Although he only spent a brief time in Hawaii in 1846, his drawings of Hawaiians are, in the words of David Forbes, author of "Encounters With Paradise", 'the most beautiful drawings of Hawaiians that exist'. (p 91)

At sixteen Plum entered the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts where he excelled, receiving a silver medal in 1837. The king of Denmark acquired several of his popular genre scenes. It is possible that Plum's connections to the court may have led to his recommendation as an artist for the expedition voyage of the "Galathea" (1845-47).

The "Galathea" was the first Danish man-of-war to visit Hawaii, arriving in Honolulu in 1846. Many of the company had developed scurvy during a two-month crossing from the Japan Sea, and the captain, Steen Bille, decided to remain in Honolulu for a month to give the men some rest. The voyage was primarily a scientific expedition, and Plum executed hundreds of fine drawings, primarily of the peoples he encountered. He made two portraits of Kamehameha III and Queen Kalama, watercolor versions of which are held in the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

His drawings of Hawaiians have a naturalness that suggests the artist and his subjects were at ease with one another, a quality not often apparent in other drawings by 'exploring artists' of the period. His portraits are clearly of specific individuals, rather than general types. "His exquisitely finished watercolors depict the natural grace and elegance of Hawaiian subjects in a way that was not duplicated for another fifty years, and then only by the photographic efforts of people like Charles Furneaux and Caroline Haskins Gurrey." (p. 91, Encounters With Paradise)

After he returned to Denmark, Plum continued his interest in South Sea subjects, exhibiting oil paintings of Tahiti and other locales. Unfortunately, Plum's work is not as well known as it might have been had Denmark not been plunged into war shortly after the return of his ship. When the official narrative of the voyage was published, only a few of his many hundreds of watercolors and drawings were reproduced. It is only recently, with their acquisition by the Maritime Museum in Helsingor, that his superb images have been available for viewing.

He died in 1876 in Fredensborg.

David W. Forbes, "Encounters With Paradise"

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