Jules Tavernier

A highly acclaimed landscape painter of western United States and Hawaii, and also a painter of Indian subjects, he was born in Paris, and received his art training there beginning at age 16 from Felix Barrias at the Ecole Des Beaux Arts. When he was twenty, he exhibited at the Paris Salon and also painted at Barbizon, where he adopted the method of painting with a loaded brush and subjects of intimate, rural scenes. He served as a soldier and war correspondent-artist during the Franco-Prussian War, and his drawings of a besieged Paris were flown by balloon to London, where they were carried by the newspapers. In 1871, he worked as an illustrator for the "London Graphic." In 1872, he came to New York City as employee of "Harper's Weekly," and his large, dramatic painting of Niagara Falls was on the cover of "Aldine" magazine. He and artist Paul Frenzeny, a friend from Paris student days, traveled the western United States together, sketching scenes as part of an illustration assignment for "Harper's Weekly" magazine. Their sketches of ritual self-torture of the Sioux Indians were some of the earliest depictions of that subject. They arrived in San Francisco in the summer of 1875 and there became active in the San Francisco Art Association and the Bohemian Club, a group of poverty stricken, fun loving writers, artists, actors and musician. In 1875 in Monterey, he built a studio on Alvarado Street that became a gathering place for artists. Once a week, painting supplies arrived by steamer from San Francisco, and he sent back completed canvases, most of them of Monterey subjects but some of Indian scenes from his earlier travels through the West. In 1879, he returned to San Francisco where he shared a studio with Julian Rix and Joseph Strong, habitues of Tavernier's Monterey studio. He married a woman who tried to modify his life style and, with the help of Giuseppe Gariboldi, he got mural commissions including major pieces for the Hopkins House. In 1884, he went to Hawaii to paint the volcanoes, which he depicted in oil and pastel in over one-hundred works. He also became court painter to the King of Hawaii, but again led a highly profligate lifestyle and, literally drinking himself to death, died at age 45, unable to pay the debts required of anyone wishing to leave the islands. He was buried in Honolulu with a grave marked by a granite stone sent by his friends from San Francisco. His work is in many collections including the De Young Museum; Volcano National Park in Hawaii; and the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. Sources: WWAA; Forbes: Encounters With Paradise; Gerdts: Art Across America, vols. 2 and 3; Samuels & Samuels: Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West. Considered one of the three originators of the "Volcano School" in Hawaii in the late 19th century, Jules Tavernier was born in Paris in 1844. As a young man he studied with Felix Barrias at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and exhibited at the Paris Salon for many years. After fighting in the Franco-Prussian war, he moved to London, where he spent a year, followed by a move to New York in 1872. In New York he worked as an illustrator for "Harper’s" and "New York Graphic." While working on a sketching tour of the West with Paul Frenzeny for Harper’s, Tavernier discovered the charms of San Francisco, where he settled from 1874-84. He was considered San Francisco’s most popular "bohemian" after joining the Bohemian Club there immediately upon his arrival. While his paintings were popular with the local press, and he enjoyed the companionship of fellow artists such as Julian Rix and Joseph Strong, his "bohemian" temperament and irresponsible attitude toward paying the bills caused him to have to flee to Hawaii in 1884. A year later, Tavernier was honored to exhibit his work at the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in New Orleans, an exhibition of important historical paintings. Tavernier’s greatest legacies, however, are his masterful volcano paintings completed during his five years in Hawaii. His numerous spectacular oil paintings, particularly of his favorite subject, the Kilauea volcano, contributed to Hawaii’s early popularity with tourists. They were, in fact, purchased by shipping companies with the express purpose of luring mainlanders to come see the fiery lava flows in person. His art found its way into nobler hands as well, including those of King Kalakaua and the Emperor of Japan. Often on a grand scale, many of the Kilauea paintings are panoramic. Equally proficient with pastels as oils, Tavernier did not limit himself to volcano pictures, but also illustrated many aspects of Hawaiian life from his home base in Hilo. Just as Tavernier was turning increasingly to other subjects, his unconventional lifestyle started taking its toll and he died of alcoholism in 1889. He is buried in Oahu, the Bohemian Club in San Francisco having sent a massive granite gravestone to mark his memory. Sources: WWAA; Forbes: Encounters With Paradise; Gerdts: Art Across America, vols. 2 and 3; Samuels & Samuels: Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West.
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