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 Joseph Dwight Strong, Jr.  (1852 - 1899)

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Lived/Active: Hawaii/California/Connecticut      Known for: Landscape, genre and portrait painting

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Joseph Dwight Jr Strong
from Auction House Records.
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A landscape and portrait painter who was a prominent part of the Northern California art scene in the late 19th century, Joseph Strong also was noted for his paintings in Hawaii including a large oil on canvas, "Japanese Laborers on Spreckelsville Plantation", 39 X 79.

He was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the son of a Congregational minister at the Fort Street Church in Honolulu. He lived in Hawaii for several years as a child and then moved to Oakland, California in 1859. He was one of the first students in the California School of Design, studying with Virgil Williams.

He painted a portrait of the mayor of Oakland that received so much acclaim that people raised enough money for him to study in Munich under Karl Von Piloty. He returned to California in 1879 and lived for several years in Monterey with his sister, Elizabeth, and became a part of the bohemian group of artists around Jules Tavernier. Then he returned to the Bay Area.

In 1889, he married Isobel Osbourne whose mother was married to Robert Louis Stevenson, and the two couples took an extended tour of the South Seas. In San Francisco, he maintained his close friendship with Jules Tavernier and his bohemian friends, many of them returned from Monterey, and Strong's studio became a gathering point, often with Stevenson as the center of attention.

In 1881, the Strongs and the Taverniers took over the entire floor of 728 Montgomery Street for studio space and living quarters, and the place became a center of socializing and artistic activity. One special attention-getting occasion was in 1882 when they threw a highly successful party for Oscar Wilde.

The social life of San Francisco was debilitating Strong, who was consuming too much alcohol, and fortunately, he was commissioned by John Spreckels to paint his Honolulu office in Hawaii. In 1882, he and his wife sailed there, and two years later Jules Tavernier joined them. In 1887, the Hawaiian embassy appointed him official artist to Samoa, and he did many paintings of that island.

In 1895, he and Isobel were divorced, and three years later, he married Elizabeth Haight, but he died ten months later. Very few of his portraits and landscapes are extant, but some of them can be found in the Silverado Museum in Saint Helena, California, and the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

David Forbes, "Encounters With Paradise"
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"

Biography from Douglas Frazer Fine Art, Ltd.:
The son of a congregational minister, Joseph Strong was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1852. When his father became minister of the Fort Street Church in Honolulu, Joseph moved with his family and spent part of his childhood in Hawaii. Perhaps this early brush with the islands had a lasting effect, as he was to become one of Hawaii’s most prominent landscape and portrait artists as an adult.

Strong’s family returned to the mainland in 1859, moving to Oakland, California. As a young man, he studied at the California School of Design with Virgil Williams, who was to have a pronounced influence on his pupil, encouraging him to follow the teachings of the Munich, rather than the more popular Parisian, school of painting. Strong was already such a talent at a young age that a portrait he painted of the mayor of Oakland impressed the citizenry so much that they funded his trip to Munich. From 1875 to 1877 he studied there with Carl Piloty and an artist named Wagner. He exhibited at the Royal Academy, winning two medals, and also at the National Academy of Design.

Returning to California in 1877, Strong became an established artist in San Francisco where he opened a studio on Montgomery Street. He was a sought after portraitist whose circle of friends included other artists popular in the area such as Jules Tavernier. Strong had followed Tavernier to Monterey when he met another fellow artist and the woman who would become his wife, Isobel Osbourne. They married in 1879 and moved to Hawaii in 1882.

The Strongs had originally moved to fulfill a commission for the John D. Spreckels Company, painting landscapes for its San Francisco office. Spreckels was the owner of many sugar plantations in Hawaii and of the Oceanic Steamship Company, which he was looking to advance. Both because of his great talent and his wife’s flair for promoting it, Strong was soon rubbing shoulders with the local royalty and receiving important portrait commissions as a result. He painted three large works for King Kalakaua between 1885 and 1886, and was the official artist aboard the Hawaiian embassy boat, "Kaimilea" to Samoa in 1887. Additionally, Strong’s landscapes were well admired and garnered many royal commissions. He also sold black and white gouache drawings of the region to various magazines. Upon arriving in Honolulu, Strong had reunited with his old friend, Tavernier, and the two shared studio space and painting excursions particularly to the local volcanoes. Strong’s ability to capture the lava formations on canvas earned him fame as on of the three "old masters" of the Volcano School.

In 1890, Strong and his wife moved to Samoa, joining his mother-in-law, Fanny Osbourne, and her husband, Robert Louis Stevenson, who were developing an estate there. The Strongs divorced several years later, and he returned to San Francisco in 1895. Three years later, in June 1898, Strong married Elizabeth Haight, but he only lived ten more months, dying in San Francisco in April 1899. (There is some controversy over his date of death; Samuels and Samuels state the year as 1900.)

Sources include: WWAA; Forbes: Encounters With Paradise; Gerdts: Art Across America, vol. 3; Hughes: Artists in California 1786-1940; Samuels and Samuels: Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West.

Written by Sarah Nelson

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Joseph Strong, Jr. is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Artists who painted Hawaii

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