Madge Tennent 1889 - 1972

Kaahumanu Reading, c. 1936, but dated 1940 in a later signature
Graphite and Wash on Strathmore (Charcoal) Laid Paper
20 x 25.50 in (50.80 x 64.77 cm)
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Queen Ka‘ahumanu (1768? - 1832) was one of the most powerful women in Hawaiian history. Queen Ka‘ahumanu, a favored wife of Kamehameha I, was an astute politician and became one of the most influential rulers in early nineteenth-century Hawai‘i. She navigated the reigns of and in her lifetime oversaw a period in Hawaiian history where the islands became a more united kingdom.

When Christian missionaries arrived in the mid-1820s, Ka‘ahumanu embraced them and their faith, possibly looking to replace the religious laws she and Kamehameha II had abolished. When she adopted Christianity, she ordered that older religious buildings and artifacts, including some at Pu‘uhonua O Hōnaunau, be abandoned and destroyed; it was only through the actions of another Christian chiefess, Kapi‘olani, that the sacred bones of royal ancestors at Pu‘uhonua O Hōnaunau were saved from destruction.

Ka‘ahumanu also created a new legal system based on the Christian Ten Commandments; encouraged literacy in the Hawaiian language so that people could read the Bible; and supported the creation of schools to teach it.

In 1936 Madge Tennent created "Ka'ahumanu Reading", Oil on Canvas 72 x 40 inches. This is the study for that painting, depicting Queen Kaahumanu at rest reading while apparently in the middle of a card game. Here, Madge Tennent suggests, with the addition of playing cards that Ka'ahumanu enjoyed temporal pleasures even while she promoted Christianity and literacy to her people. The style is so reminiscent of the Mexican muralists Tennent admired, yet she has defined the work as her own by the subject matter and the manner of execution.

Provenance: Donald Angus Collection, sold to benefit the Honolulu Art Museum.

Signed and dated 1940, this is clearly a study for the earlier major work "Kaahumanu Reading" from 1936. We believe that this work had not been signed when Madge gave the work to her friend and patron, Donald Angus. Angus probably asked Madge to sign and date the work at the time of the gift, but they actually got the date wrong. The signature bears some similarities to signatures on works from the 1940's, but is clearly different from those flowing signatures.

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