Though he worked fewer than five years in Hawaii, Jules Tavernier (1844-1889) became world-renowned as the premier interpreter of Kilauea volcano on the Big Island. He was born in Paris in 1844 to parents of English descent, spent his youth in London, and then returned to Paris to live with relatives. In 1861, he was admitted to the atelier of Felix Barrias at the École des Beaux-Arts, where he trained for four years. When two of Tavernier's works were accepted for the 1864 Paris Salon, an ultra-prestigious annual exhibition at the Louvre, the 20-year-old artist suddenly catapulted into the limelight. He remained a fixture at the Salon until 1870.
After serving in the Franco-Prussian War, Tavernier returned to London in 1871, where he worked as an illustrator until financial reversals forced his relocation to New York in 1872. While there, Tavernier prepared views and genre scenes for popular magazines such as The New York Graphic and Harper's Weekly. He soon decided to strike out for San Francisco, whose arts community warmly embraced him. Tavernier reciprocated their affections in earnest, becoming the city's most popular "bohemian" upon co-founding the Bohemian Club shortly after his arrival. He also founded the Palette Club and became vice president of the San Francisco Art Association. Fourteen years later, financial troubles once again pushed him west, this time to the remote and exotic shores of Hawaii.
Overwhelmed with the islands' beauty, Tavernier began painting with renewed energy and gusto. While on a sketching tour of the Big Island with fellow artist Charles Furneaux in January 1885, he witnessed the awesome fury of Kilauea, the volcano that would become his inspiration and obsession. From this encounter was born the Volcano School, a regional movement exclusive to Hawaii. Together with Furneaux and Joseph D. Strong, Tavernier endeavored to capture the spectacular elements of an active lava flow: the explosive plumes, sulfuric vapors, vibrant colors, and blistering heat. Their canvases conveyed the ghostly and wondrous experience of Hawaii's volcanic eruptions to viewers around the world.
Of the expert "old masters" who painted Hawaii in the 19th century, Tavernier is unquestionably the most famous. Equally proficient with pastels as with oils, he depicted not only volcanoes but also the more quotidian aspects of Hawaiian life. During his four-year tenure in the islands, his work found its way into the collections of King Kalakaua and the Emperor of Japan. Alas, his personality much resembled the tortured and fiery landscapes he depicted. In 1889, the volatile genius succumbed to "severe consumption of alcohol" and died, aged 45. Though Tavernier fell into relative obscurity over the ensuing decade, his legacy was soon to be immortalized in the form of his young pupil, D. Howard Hitchcock.
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