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 Madge Tennent  (1889 - 1972)

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Lived/Active: Hawaii/California      Known for: figure-Islander, portrait painting

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Madge Tennent
An example of work by Madge Tennent
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Madge Tennent
American born in England  (1889-1972)

Madge Tennent, born Madeline Cook in Dulwich, England, moved with her family to Cape Town, South Africa when she was five.  At the age of twelve, she entered an art school in Cape Town, and the following year her parents, who recognized and encouraged her talent, moved to Paris to enable Madeline to study there.  In Paris, she studied figure drawing under William Bouguereau, an experience that laid the technical foundation for her later figural drawings and paintings.  She and her family subsequently returned to South Africa, and after her marriage in 1915 to Hugh Cowper Tennent, she relocated to his native New Zealand.  In 1917 they moved to British Samoa where Tennent started her love affair with the Polynesian people.  While on leave in Australia, she studied with Julian Ashton "and learned" she said, "to draw for the very first time.  Julian Ashton founded the Sydney Art School in 1890.  He was an ardent disciple of Impressionist painting and claimed to have executed the first "plein air" landscape in Australia.  In 1923 the Tennents left Samoa to go to England, stopping in Hawai'i.  They were entranced with the islands and decided to stay.

Madge Tennent helped to support her family by taking commissions to paint and draw portraits of children.  A friend's gift of a book on Gauguin set her on an artistic course that lasted fifty years, during which she portrayed Hawaiian women in a style that increasingly became her own.  She was active in Hawai'i from the 1930's to the 1960's.  "The Hawaiians are really to me the most beautiful people in the world: she once said, "no doubt about it - the Hawaiian is a piece of living sculpture".  Using grand swirls of oil Tennent portrayed Hawaiian women as solidly fleshed and majestic - larger than life - capturing in rhythmic forms the very essence of their being.  They are strong, serene and proud.  Her method of working with impasto - applying thick layers of paint to achieve a graceful, perfectly balanced composition - is evident in Lei Queen Fantasia.  Everything on the canvas whirls.  The paint is applied in whirls in what might be called the "Tennent whirl" - the colors bright and luminous.  Tennent envisioned Hawaiian Kings and Queens as having descended from Gods of heroic proportion, intelligent and brave, bearing a strong affinity to the Greeks in their legends and persons.  She was criticized for her portrayal of larger size women but to her Hawaiian women fulfilled the standards of classic Greek Beauty.

Hawaii Preparatory Academy Arts Center

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A renowned art educator as well as painter of modern figurative canvases of Hawaiian subjects, Madge Tennent had a distinguished career based primarily in Hawaii from where she sent paintings to the mainland United States for exhibitions in New York City and Chicago between 1930 and 1939.

She also exhibited in London at the Wertheim Gallery, in Paris at the Bernheim-Jeune Galleries, and in Honolulu at the Academy of Arts and the Grossman-Moody Gallery. Her most remarkable exhibit was in 1945 at Gump's Department Store in Waikiki where she showed drawings in sepia wash and ink.  Shortly after that, she abandoned her professional painting career but lived to age eighty two in 1972.

She received her early training at the Academie Julian in Paris and as a result of exposure to French artists later said that the three great inspirations of her life were Renoir, Picasso, and Gauguin, but Renoir more than the others.

As a young woman, she was director of the Government School of Art at Johannesburg, South Africa, and from 1913 to 1915 taught at her own school in Cape Town.  After marriage to Hugh Cowper Tennent from New Zealand, she became the head of the art school in Invercargill and then followed her husband to Samoa.  In 1923, she first visited Hawaii, and she and her family decided to stay.  She regarded the Hawaiians as some of the most beautiful people in the world and painted them with great reverence and respect.

Since 2005, much of her work is housed at Isaacs Art Center at Hawaii Preparatory Academy.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Dulwich, England on June 22, 1889.  "Madge" Cook was considered a child prodigy and at 13 studied in Paris at Académie Julian under William Bouguereau.  She married Hugh Tennent in 1915 and in 1923 settled in Hawaii.  During the 1930s she made trips to the mainland and was active in California.

Mrs. Tennent died in Honolulu on Feb. 5, 1972. Upon her death the Hawaiian legislature paid tribute to her with a resolution.  She is best remembered for her paintings of Hawaiian women.

Exh: California Palace Legion of Honor, 1932; Painters & Sculptors of Los Angeles, 1937.
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Notable Women of Hawaii; Encounters With Paradise.
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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Madge Tennent is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Artists who painted Hawaii

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