Click on photos to enlarge.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Jules Tavernier

Sunrise Over Diamond Head, 1888, Jules Tavernier
Camping in the Redwoods,
Jules Tavernier
When we think of tourism today, we often picture jet planes, SUVs overburdened with camping equipment, lavish resorts or (conversely) Motel 8. Yet tourism has been around at least as far back as Marco Polo's little jaunt to China during the 13th-century. In the U.S. it doesn't go back quite that far but, if you want to call them that, each of the European explorers we all studied in elementary history books were, in essence, tourists. Some of them even brought with them artists (in lieu of cameras). If you discount the western migration during much of the 19th-century, tourism in America didn't get much of a foothold until the advent of the transcontinental railroads, which made travel somewhat less costly, less dangerous, less strenuous, and a hell of a lot more comfortable than stage-coaches. Moreover, there was a lot of America to see, especially the diverse landscape west of the Miss-issippi. That was largely the thinking of the editors and publisher of the number one illustrated periodical of the latter half of the century, Harper's Weekly Magazine. In 1873, they decided to bankroll a couple of their artists on a year-long, cross-country trip to spark public interest in the nascent tourism industry they saw developing. Both men were French, in their thirties, trained in Paris, and most importantly, spoke English. Paul Frenzeny, the elder of the two, was best known for his draughtsmanship and woodcuts. He likely served as assistant and guide to the painter, Jules Tavernier (pronounced tah-vurn-YAY).

Tavernier was a rather scraggly-looking creature, well-suited for the
American "wild" West, an excellent artist, but one with a weakness for the bottle.
Today, such an undertaking would involve a topnotch photographer and writer. They had cameras back then, of course; and quite a number of photos of the West's scenic magnificence were flowing East. The problem was that the technology for printing such photos for mass distribution simply didn't exist. Illustrations in magazines such as Harper's were mostly created using the ancient arts and crafts of the woodcut, a painstaking, time consuming process manifestly not well suited for tourism. During their journey, Frenzeny and Tavernier rode the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway from Parsons, Kansas, across Indian Territory, to Denison, Texas. From there on, their little trek had to rely on more primitive transportation as seen in Tavernier's A Prairie Windstorm (below), from 1874. The two often collaborated on their illustrations.

A Prairie Windstorm, 1874, Paul Frenzeny, Jules Tavernier.
Getting there was half the fun!
Red Cloud Camp, Watercolor, Jules Tavernier
There's not much to see or paint from a train window in Missouri, Kansas, or Texas. Tavernier made do sketching Indian encampments along the way. Some, such as the Sioux Encampment (below), painted years later in 1884, are really quite well done, emphasizing an illustrator's attention to detail and au-thenticity. The winter encamp-ment, below it, probably dates from the 1873 journey west and may have, in fact, been painted while on the train (nice trick if you can do it).

The dates on Tavernier's works (when they're known at all) are somewhat "iffy."
The style in his 1873 work is quite different than that of his later paintings.
Their journey ended in San Francisco where they fulfilled their commitment to Harper's and parted company. Tavernier fell in love with San Francisco, though there are few, if any works by him of the city itself. He opened a studio there for a time but found it necessary to evacuate as his creditors descended upon him. He moved further south to Monterey where he opened a second studio (the first of what became a vibrant artists' colony). Though he was always modestly successful as an artist, his alcoholism and carelessness with the modest sums he earned quickly drove him out of town. This time, he hopped a boat heading further west, bound for Hawaii.

Day and night--Wailuku Falls, Hilo, ca. 1886, pastel on paper,
and Tavernier's Volcano at Night.
The exact date of Tavernier's arrival in Honolulu is uncertain but likely came in the early 1880s inasmuch as several of his volcano paintings bear dates from that decade. Tavernier's Sunrise over Diamond Head (top) dates from 1888. Having visited the state nearly a hundred years after Tavernier's arrival I have to say it's probably the best painted image of Hawaii I've ever encountered. The word, "stunning" comes to mind. Tavernier's other Hawaiian paintings, mostly volcanos, are hardly less impressive as was the impact Tavernier made upon the island's largely self-taught artist population at the time. His students included, most importantly, D. Howard Hitchcock, as well as Amédée Joullin, Charles Rollo Peters, and Manuel Valencia. It would be hard to overstate Tavernier's influence over these artists and even the derivative art seen in tourist galleries in the islands today. All this, in little more than ten years. Jules Tavernier never returned to France, never left the islands. He died of alcoholism in Honolulu in 1889.

West Coast Indian Baskets, Jules Tavernier,
from the California period.


No comments:

Post a Comment