Charles Furneaux, (1835-1913), Diamond Head, Waikiki Beach, and Helumoa Coconut Grove, Honolulu, circa 1880-1885, (Helumoa also means Royal Groves and was also the name of King Kamehameha)


furneaux.1 copy

Diamond Head, Waikiki Beach, and Helumoa Coconut Grove, Honolulu, circa 1880-1885,
(Helumoa also means Royal Groves and was also the name of King Kamehameha) Very historical site in Hawaiian History!
Charles Furneaux, (1935-1913)
Oil on Panel
11.75″ x 20″
Period Framed
 Pristine Condition

Charles Furneaux, who settled in Honolulu in 1880, is best known as a landscape specialist, and the earliest of Hawaii’s resident volcano painters.

Very little is known of his life before he came to Hawaii in 1880. He was born in Boston about 1835 and was a drawing instructor in schools in that area for some time. For many years he lived in the town of Melrose, Massachusetts. Even less is known of his training as an artist, and his reputation derives solely from the paintings he executed while in Hawaii. During the 19th century numerous famous artists from Europe and America visited Hawaii, then known as the Sandwich Islands, and were attracted to the island of Hawaii in particular by its spectacular landscapes and active volcanoes.

In addition to Charles Furneaux, early artist-visitors included Robert Dampier, Titian Ramsay Peale, John LaFarge, and Jules Tavernier, among many others.

Furneaux was the first of several volcano artists to be lured to Hawaii. While working as a drawing instructor in Boston, he had met William T. Brigham, an island promoter, volcano enthusiast, and future director of the Bernice P. Bishop Museum of Honolulu. In 1880 Brigham and Furneaux decided to visit Hawaii. In the course of their trip west, they met Albert F. Judd, a prominent Honolulu lawyer and Supreme Court justice, and his wife. By the time the boat arrived in Honolulu Harbor, the artist and the Judds were great friends. Furneaux boarded with them for more than a year and was introduced by them into a society dominated by descendants of missionaries, some of whom by this time had money to purchase paintings.

Furneaux also cultivated the friendship and support of King Kalakaua and other members of the Hawaiian royal family, from whom he later received several commissions. Finding the islands congenial, he sent for his wife, Mary, and they became permanent residents of Hawaii. While living in Honolulu he was one of the islands’ earliest teachers of art, instructing at the private school Punahou in 1883 and in 1885 at St. Albans College, now known as Iolani School, where he also taught French. That same year he received the order of Chevalier of Kapiolani from King Kalakaua in ‘recognition of his services in advancing Hawaiian art’.

His greatest period of activity lasted from his arrival in 1880 to about 1888. During this time he painted several hundred oils on a variety of surfaces as well as small sketches and watercolors. The first of his several trips to the volcano of Kilauea was in the fall of 1880 with Brigham, and his earliest significant body of work depicted Kilauea’s eruption of 188081. His second and most extensive trip, from May through July 1881, included an arduous trek up the rugged slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano. He viewed the volcano’s active vent and then carefully traced the course of the lava flow down the mountain. His oil sketches of that eruption and flow are among his best volcano views and they paved the way for later interpreters of the subject.

His works were exhibited during August 1821 in the Judiciary building of Honolulu, which he used for some time as a studio. The display was the first one-person art exhibition held in the Hawaiian Islands, and included another first, a printed catalogue of the exhibition. His studies are the closest approximation to plein-air, or on-site, paintings of the nineteenth-century volcano that exist, although they would have been impossible to complete truly ‘on site’ because of heat and noxious gases. One painting depicts the site of a John Hall’s house (‘John Hall’s House, June 9, 1881, oil on panel, Bishop Museum, Honolulu) before and after its destruction by lava, and exemplifies the sort of cautionary tale that Victorians of the era loved. Its moral warns against tempting the forces of nature, in this case the goddess of volcanoes, Pele.

His paintings were not always devoted to the spectacular, as his romantic view of Diamond Head illustrates. (‘View of Diamond Head’, 1880-85, oil on panel, Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley, Massachusetts). He also painted portraits, including royal commissions, and still lifes as well, particularly island flowers. Like most artists of the period, Furneaux made a large portion of his livelihood from portrait commissions. A portrait of Queen Kapiolani in her coronation robes, which hangs in Iolani Palace, Honolulu, is his finest work in this genre.

After the 1880s, due to his increasingly poor eyesight, he turned to photography, and eventually abandoned painting. The results of his interest in photography are some of the most evocative images of late nineteenth-century Hawaii. In 1888 he was appointed American consular agent at the port of Hilo on the island of Hawaii, and left the island of Oahu to move permanently to Hilo, serving until the annexation of Hawaii in 1898. In June 1893 the premises he occupied were destroyed by fire, which may account for the scarcity of his paintings. From 1894 on he devoted himself to raising coffee and bananas at Olaa (then Ferndale) on that island. He died at Olaa on November 7, 1913. In Hilo, the street on which Charles and Mary Furneaux had lived now bears their name.

Furneaux and other visitor artists left behind a rich legacy of paintings, many of which are now on view at several museums in Hawaii and throughout the United States. Ten small oils on canvas by Charles Furneaux are in the Archives Collection of the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. Conservation work is being carried out on them in their Conservation Services Painting Conservation Laboratory with the assistance of Melissa Arnold, Conservation Services conservation technician. The Hawaiian Historical Society possesses a sketchbook of Charles Furneaux, which contains an illustrated narrative of the lava flow of 1880-1881 (1 vol.).

Furneaux and other artists who visited Hawaii left a living legacy through their students, artists who were born on the island and began their art training with early illustrious visitors. A lively account of late 19th century life on Hawaii Island can be found in the book Six Months in the Sandwich Islands by Isabella Byrd (University of Hawaii Press).
Charles Furneaux was born in Boston in approximately 1835. Though he was a drawing teacher there, not much is known about his early life or his training as an artist. His real distinction came after his move to Hawaii, where he became one of the three “old masters” of the Volcano School, in addition to Joseph D. Strong and Jules Tavernier.

Furneaux first went to Hawaii in 1880 at the invitation of William T. Bingham. Bingham was a promoter of the Hawaiian Islands and a great volcano buff. His enthusiasm was contagious, and Furneaux decided he had to see these wonders for himself. Thus started a specialization in paintings of volcanoes and a permanent move to Hawaii.

Arriving the earliest of the Volcano School trio, Furneaux was famous for his desire to get up close and personal with his subject. He liked to do on the spot sketches of eruptions which then became the foundation for future paintings. He was there to observe the eruptions of Mauna Loa and Kilauea in 1880-81 and in 1887. His forty field sketches of the Mauna Loa eruption astounded his audience for their realism.

In addition to his fame as a landscape painter, Furneaux painted still lifes of island flora, and was a distinguished portrait painter. Early on he was befriended by King Kalakaua and received a commission to paint a portrait of Queen Kapiolani. He was awarded the “Chevalier of Kapiolani” for advancing Hawaiian art in 1885.

Furneaux also has the distinction of offering the first solo exhibition in Hawaii in 1881, and with the first printed companion catalogue.

In later years Furneaux returned to teaching, first at the Punahou School in 1883, then at St. Albans College (now Iolani School) in 1885.

Unfortunately, much of his work was destroyed by fire in 1893. Around this same time, Furneaux began to prefer photography over painting. Because of his stature in the community, in 1888, he was appointed the American Consular Agent and moved to Hilo for ten years. The final years of his life, from 1894 until his death in 1913, were spent raising coffee and bananas at his country home at Oloa.

Sources: WWAA; Gerdts: Art Across America, vol. 3; Forbes: Encounters with Paradise.