Painter. Adventurer. Visionary. French artist Jules Tavernier (1844–1889) was one of the American West’s foremost talents, with a natural ability that many believed was second to none. After arriving in the United States, he and fellow Frenchman Paul Frenzeny were commissioned by Harper’s Weekly to travel by rail from New York to San Francisco, producing illustrations of the rapidly changing American frontier along the way. The images were dramatic—American Indian customs, the emerging cattle trade, the decimation of native wildlife—and had rarely been seen by a popular audience. These scenes established Tavernier’s reputation as a bold and daring painter and influenced the work of subsequent artists.
Tavernier’s reputation continued to grow in California, where he flourished in the budding social scene. He became a member of San Francisco’s newly established Bohemian Club, hosting elaborate parties and taking part in celebratory outdoor revels, and his studio in Monterey became a hub of the peninsula’s developing art colony. The strange grandeur of the Monterey coastline appealed to Tavernier’s imagination, and it was during this period that he produced some of the most audacious work of his career, featuring a host of mysterious themes and images. Always on a quest for new and “untouched” subject matter (and weighed down by significant debts), Tavernier moved on to Hawaii, where he was fascinated by the island’s dramatic scenery. “There is material here for a lifetime,” he wrote to a friend, and, indeed, it was in this preindustrial paradise, with its lush greenery and churning beds of lava, that the artist’s turbulent and creative life seemed to find its perfect visual embodiment.
Jules Tavernier: Artist & Adventurer, the catalogue for the exhibition of the same title, is the first publication to focus on Jules Tavernier and his full range of work. With more than 120 artworks and photographs, it explores the life and work of this extraordinary artist.