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Competing Views of Paradise in Late Nineteenth-Century Hawaiian Landscape Painting

image of Religion and the Arts

In the 1880s, American artists Charles Furneaux, Joseph D. Strong, and Jules Tavernier—who later became known as the “Volcano School”—traveled to the Kingdom of Hawai‘i and produced dozens of landscapes ranging from otherworldly scenes of volcanoes to vistas of untouched, pristine beaches. While white, upper-class landowners in Hawai‘i served as the primary patrons of such paintings, the reigning monarch, King David Kalākaua, also commissioned his own sweeping landscapes from the same artists. This article focuses on the two competing narratives of paradise at work in both these paintings and writings about the Hawaiian Islands in the 1880s. “Paradise” could invoke a Romantic position, one that celebrated the landscape’s wildness and equated nature in its pure state with the lost Garden of Eden. On the other hand, Kalākaua’s commissions reflect what environmental historian Carolyn Merchant calls the Recovery Narrative: a story of humans reversing the effects of the biblical Fall by subjugating desolate and distant wilds and transforming them into fruitful lands. This article argues that Kalākaua’s presentation of “paradise” was part of a multi-pronged but ultimately failed strategy to resist American imperialism and present the Kingdom of Hawai‘i to the West as a prosperous, profitable nation.

Affiliations: 1: Covenant College


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