Honolulu Academy of Arts

Photo: ©2000 John Hazeltine

Honolulu, HI




A Printmaker in Paradise: The Life and Art of Charles W. Bartlett


One of the world's finest woodblock print artists in the Japanese ukiyo-e (floating world) style wasn't Japanese -- he was an Englishman and former Hawaii resident Charles William Bartlett (1860-1940). The career of this extraordinary and prolific painter and printmaker will be examined in the upcoming exhibition, A Printmaker in Paradise: The Life and Art of Charles W. Bartlett, presented in the Luce Pavilion Gallery at the Honolulu Academy of Arts November 15, 2001, through January 6, 2002.

Richard Miles, a preeminent scholar in the study of Western artists working in the ukiyo-e tradition of color woodblock printing, is serving as guest curator for this exhibition which surveys Bartlett's career including prints, paintings and watercolors from the Academy's extensive holdings as well as those of his descendants, with additional work on loan from private collectors. Project Director and co-curator is Jennifer Saville, Academy Curator of Western Art. A richly illustrated companion catalogue for the exhibition, the first such publication about the artist, will include a scholarly essay by Miles, a statement by descendants of the artist, as well as catalogue raisonné of Bartlett's color woodcuts and etchings co-authored by Miles and Saville. (left: Charles William Bartlett, England/active Hawaii, 1860-1940, Peshawar, ca. 1919, Color woodcut, Honolulu Academy of Arts, Anna Rice Cooke Collection, 1927 (5363))

A Printmaker in Paradise will include impressions of Bartlett's best-known work drawn from color woodcuts printed in Tokyo by publisher Shosaburo Watanabe. Compositions of Hawaii's Duke Kahanamoku surfing and a Hawaiian net fisherman will be featured along with hand-colored etchings and works in oil and watercolor. Special sections will focus on subjects as diverse as mother and child, the Taj Mahal, Mount Fuji, and other earlier works of Holland and Brittany. Carved wood blocks and etched plates from which Bartlett's works were printed will also be on display. Bartlett's The Hour of Prayer: A Portfolio of Progressive Proofs will be on view concurrently in the Academy's Graphic Arts Gallery. This exhibition presents a set of progressive proofs illustrating the development of The Hour of Prayer, a popular color woodcut by Bartlett. Two parallel sets of prints, one displaying a proof of each of the 29 blocks used to create the finished print, and the second showing the sequential superimposition of each block's image until the composition is completed, will be on view November 15, 2001 through January 6, 2002.(left: Charles William Bartlett, England/active Hawaii, 1860-1940, Surf-Riders, Honolulu., ca. 1919, Color woodcut, 10 x 14-9/16 in. (25.40 x 36.99 cm), Honolulu Academy of Arts, Anna Rice Cooke Collection, 1927 (5367))

Charles William Bartlett was born in the English Channel resort town of Bridport, Dorestshire, in the South of England. Educated at the famous public school Clifton, on the outskirts of Bristol, he later studied at Mr. Townsend's School in the same area. After school, Bartlett worked for several years at a metallurgy firm in Bristol before entering the prestigious Royal Academy of Arts in London. He spent three years at the Academy and then moved to Paris where he studied under Jules-Joseph Lefebvre (1836-1911) and Gustave Boulanger (1824-1888) at the Académie Julian. In Paris, Bartlett was exposed to Orientalist works by the award-winning Boulanger which may have been the impetus for his later travels to Asia. As a young artist, he used a variety of techniques including oil painting, watercolors, etching, and drypoint. He opened new aspects of watercolor painting, linking his impressionist style to the development of new techniques. His watercolor work has been praised as having "the depth and richness of oils." (left: Charles William Bartlett, England/active Hawaii, 1860-1940, Kyoto. 1916., 1916, Color woodcut, 9-1/16 x 14-1/4 in. (23.01 x 36.19 cm) Honolulu Academy of Arts, Anna Rice Cooke Collection, 1927 (5386))

In 1889, Bartlett returned and married Emily Tate, who died almost immediately afterwards. Stricken with grief, Bartlett spent several years traveling with the Belgian-born British painter Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956). Throughout the Brittany countryside and on to France and Venice they traveled, sketching and creating watercolors. It is believed that Brangwyn introduced Bartlett to the world of Japanese art and ukiyo-e prints. Following his travels with Brangwyn, Bartlett settled for a time in the Netherlands where his reputation as an excellent watercolorist flourished. He was invited to join the Société National des Beaux Arts in France in 1897. In 1898, he married the daughter of a wealthy Scot shipbuilder, Catherine "Kate" Main. Traveling in Brittany and Holland, he created works depicting the farmers and rural peasants of these regions. In 1908, Bartlett helped found the Société de la Peinture a l'Eau in Paris. By this time, Bartlett was seen as one of the leading watercolor artists in Europe. (left: Charles William Bartlett, England/active Hawaii, 1860-1940, Khyber. 1916, 1916, Color woodcut, 11-15/16 x 8-7/8 in. (30.31 x 22.54 cm), Honolulu Academy of Arts, Anna Rice Cooke Collection, 1927 (5386))

With financial backing from his wife's well-to-do family, Bartlett and Kate set off for what was planned as a five-year tour through Asia in December of 1913. They traveled through China and arrived in Japan in 1915. In Japan they met ukiyo-e publisher Shozaburo Watanabe who had been creating reproduction prints of important ukiyo-e artists such as Harunobu. Excited by the emerging Sousaku-hanga (creative prints) movement in Japan, Watanabe wanted to create new, original prints using the traditional ukiyo-e production method which involves cooperation from the designer, the block carver, and the printer. Watanabe was impressed by Bartlett's watercolors and sought to create woodblock prints. At Watanabe's urging, Bartlett was trained in the use of the Japanese style brush. Together the two created work after work. The first group included six scenes from India and six scenes from Japan. The Indian scene series was quickly put on display in an exhibition at the gallery of the Berlin Photographic Company in New York.

Bartlett left Japan in 1917 and stopped in Honolulu to open a one-man show on his way back to England. While he intended to stay only a few weeks, he became enchanted with the island paradise and made it his home for more than 20 years until he died at the age of 79. In Honolulu, he was befriended by Anna Rice Cooke, founder of the Honolulu Academy of Arts, who hosted his one-man show in her residence. He quickly became a central figure in the art world of Honolulu. Bartlett painted portraits of Mrs. Cooke and other residents in Honolulu, and depicted the scenery of Hawaii. He also maintained his connection with Watanabe in Japan and continued to create works on the subjects of Asia. He returned to Japan in 1919 and created sixteen Shin-haga prints. This group of prints included subjects from Hawaii­young surfers and a fisherman. While in Hawaii, Bartlett continued to work with Watanabe and was featured in exhibitions alongside Japanese artists including Hiroshi Yoshida, Koka Yamamura, Shinsui Ito, and others.

Bartlett's works were among the highest priced and most highly praised, sometimes commanding prices that were ten times higher than those of Japanese artists. In 1933, Bartlett helped found Honolulu Printmakers, an organization dedicated to perpetuating the art of printmaking. Still in existence today, Honolulu Printmakers will present its 73rd exhibition in February 2001, and has an open printmaking studio in the Academy Art Center at 1111 Victoria Street. In 1939, the Honolulu Academy of Arts presented a retrospective exhibition of Bartlett's work. He died in 1940. His wife, Kate, died a year later on December 7, 1941, the day of the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. Kate is credited with being one of the founding members of the Christian Science Church in Honolulu.

"Charles Bartlett was a contented man, the blessed exception to the angst-filled neglected artist syndrome. Happy in his life, happy in his friends and work, he began as an Englishman admired all over the European Continent and ended as a self-described American-Hawaiian hermit in a beautiful green valley"; says guest curator Richard Miles. "His prints have not been seen in quantity since 1939, and to many, they will be a revelation in the context of the art of the early Twentieth century."

rev. 2/13/01

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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

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