Joseph Strong

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. 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. He studied at the California School of Design with Virgil Williams. 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 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, "Kaimiloa" 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: 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. 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. 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. He studied at the California School of Design with Virgil Williams. 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 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: 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.
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