Jules Tavernier (1844 – 1889)
Perhaps best remembered for his volcano paintings of Hawaii, Jules Tavernier also painted notable scenes of the West. Born in Paris, Jules Tavernier had a father who was English and a French mother, and Jules claimed British citizenship. As a child he lived in both England and France. As a young man he studied with artist Felix Barrias in Paris, and in 1864 began to exhibit at the Paris Salon. He also painted in Barbizon, France.
At the start of the Franco-Prussian War, Tavernier volunteered for service. At the end of the war he took advantage of his British citizenship and moved to London where he worked as an illustrator. From London he moved to New York where he continued to work in illustration. In New York, he spent time with artist Paul Frenzeny (1840-1902), who worked at Harper’s, as did Tavernier. In 1873 the two got an assignment to travel in the West, sketching scenes for the magazine.
Tavernier and Frenzeny spent time in Missouri, Texas, Colorado, Nebraska, Utah, and various other places before arriving in San Francisco in 1874. Their sketches of the Nebraska Sioux include some of the earliest depictions of particularly sacred rituals.
In 1875 the two artists became members of the Bohemian Club in San Francisco, a group of creative people. Members were newsmen, artists, musicians, actors, and businessmen who shared an interest in the arts and camaraderie. Tavernier helped found both the Bohemian and Palette Clubs, and was also a vice-president of the San Francisco Art Association.
In 1876, Jules built a studio in Monterey, a quiet coastal town several hours south of San Francisco. Paul Frenzeny moved there too, but the two quarreled and their friendship came to an end.
Tavernier married Lizzie Fulton in 1877. Her father was from New York, and her mother was Austrian. Their marriage was troubled, as Tavernier’s habits of indebtedness and drinking took a toll.
He quarreled and ran up debts with Monterey locals, and in 1879 Tavernier returned to San Francisco where he shared a studio with Julian Rix (1850-1903) and Joseph Strong (1852-1899), with whom he had been friends in Monterey. Another friend from Monterey, Giuseppe Gariboldi, helped Tavernier get some mural commissions, including some for the Hopkins residence in San Francisco. Hopkins was one of the ‘Big Four’ railroad magnates who had built the Central Pacific Railroad.
In the early 1880s, Tavernier spent time painting in Yosemite as well as British Colombia. His debts were mounting however, and in 1884, he and Lizzie set sail for the Hawaiian Islands, escaping some of his San Francisco credit problems.
Arriving in Honolulu, he for a time shared studio space with Joseph Strong, having known Joseph and Isobel Strong from San Francisco. Strong and Tavernier went on a sketching trip to ‘the Big Island’ of Hawaii, and it was there that Tavernier first saw Kilauea, the volcano that was to become his inspiration. But the relationship between Tavernier and Strong was short-lived, due to differences in temperament.
In 1885, Tavernier began doing volcano paintings that received rave reception. He, along with Charles Furneaux (1835-1913) and Joseph Strong (1852-1899) were considered the founders of what became called the ‘Volcano School’ of painting in Hawaii, and are regarded by many as the ‘old masters’ of Hawaiian painting. Although he worked less than five years in Hawaii, Tavernier is often referred to as the premier interpreter of the volcano. Many other artists picked up the theme that he had started.
Many commissions followed for Tavernier, both for volcano paintings and views of scenic places, as well as portraits. He worked on the island of Hawaii, painting Kilauea Volcano, as well as the area around the city of Hilo. His images grew increasingly grand, and he even came up with the idea of a gigantic volcano panoramic canvas, which envisioned would travel the country.
This panorama, Tavernier’s largest volcano painting, was a canvas of vast proportion, twelve feet high by ninety feet long, and was intended to be experienced as a circular view from a stand in the center. The panorama opened to the public in Hilo in 1886 and later in Honolulu, but was little exhibited after that.
His debts and drinking continued to cause problems, and he ran up large bills for canvas, paints, and frames, often with King Brothers’ art store on Hotel Street in Honolulu. Discouraged, Lizzie left him in 1887, and returned to San Francisco. Jules was unable to leave Hawaii, as it was required that debts be paid before people set sail from the islands. The Hitchcock family of Hilo befriended him and tried to help him regain his health. In addition to his drinking, he also suffered from asthma. David Howard Hitchcock (1861-1943), considerably younger than Jules, was Tavernier’s disciple and principal student and is himself highly regarded for his interpretation of the Hawaiian landscape. The two had met in Hilo on Tavernier’s initial trip to the island of Hawaii with Joseph Strong.
For awhile he re-worked some of his Western scenes from his Hilo studio. Other western scenes were found in his Honolulu studio after his death. Volcano paintings are most often associated with his work in Hawaii, but they were only a portion of his output there. His Hawaiian work included landscapes, pictures of waterfalls, still lifes, flowers, scenes of interiors, and portraits as well. Several of his landscapes are in a long horizontal format. Some are reminiscent of the French Barbizon style of painting that had been popular during Tavernier’s student days in France.
By 1889, Jules Tavernier had died of alcoholism at his studio on Hotel Street in Honolulu. He was buried at the Oahu Cemetery in Nuuanu Valley. His friends at the Bohemian Club, on hearing of his death, sent a marker for his grave.
www.tigtail.org, based on the book Splendide Californie, Impressions of the Golden State by French Artists by Dr. Claudein Chalmers
David Forbes, Encounters With Paradise: Views of Hawaii and It’s People: 1778-1941.
Biography from the Archives of AskART