Honolulu Cityscape artworks from 1850s on view at Honolulu Museum of Art

Step back in time to the mid-19th century with “Mauka to Makai, Honolulu Cityscapes of the 1850s,” opened July 14 and on view through October 16 at the Honolulu Museum of Art (HoMA). Nearly 30 prints, watercolors and drawings beckon visitors to experience the city’s iconic landmarks and businesses of centuries past, many of which still exist today. HoMA pairs images of Honolulu’s cityscape with portraits of Hawaiian royalty, including Kamehameha III, Kamehameha IV and Kamehameha V.

“Several objects in the Honolulu Museum of Art’s collection chronicle the city’s visual evolution, tracing its transformation from a bustling natural harbor to the cosmopolitan epicenter of the Islands,” Tory Laitila, exhibition curator and HoMA’s curator of textiles and historic arts of Hawai‘i, said. “This exhibition presents an opportunity to display those works alongside institutional and private loans to offer a full glimpse of Honolulu’s past, especially pertinent as we mark the 150th anniversary of Kamehameha Day.”

Kamehameha Day, first celebrated in 1872, honors King Kamehameha I, also known as Kamehameha the Great, and recognizes his work in unifying the Hawaiian Islands in 1810. Honolulu was named as the capital of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i in 1845.

Several pieces on view in the Honolulu cityscape artworks exhibition honor the Kamehameha dynasty. Lithographs that depict King Kamehameha III’s funeral processional offer a look at Hawaiian traditions paired with English practices. The complete series by Paul Emmert (1826-1867) presents a detailed view of the somber occasion that was attended by well-known people and citizens from across Honolulu. Emmert often captured scenes across the Island and made prints of many of his drawings after opening a print shop in Hawai’i in 1853. The Swiss-born artist immigrated to the United States when he was 19 years old and lived in New York and California before moving to Hawai’i.

The Honolulu cityscapes artwork exhibition also includes several lithographs and a watercolor by George Henry Burgess (1831-1905), who painted portraits of the royal family during the reign of King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma. The London-born artist immigrated to California with his brothers and made three trips to Hawai’i starting in 1856. During his visits, he also captured images of Honolulu’s people and landscapes. Those sketches and paintings were later published by San Francisco lithographers Britton and Rey. HoMA’s installation includes Burgess’ views of Honolulu Beach, Nuuanu Valley, Old Fort Honolulu and more.

James Gay Sawkins (British, 1806-1878). Honolulu from the West, circa 1850-1852. Watercolor painting on paper. Purchase, 1992 (21549).
James Gay Sawkins (British, 1806-1878). Honolulu from the West, circa 1850-1852. Watercolor painting on paper. Purchase, 1992 (21549).

James Gay Sawkins (1806-1878), an artist who visited Hawai’i from 1850-1852, used watercolor to illustrate the city’s striking landscape in Honolulu from the West. The England-born artist earned his income in Baltimore, where he painted miniature portraits on ivory, and lived in Cuba and Australia before returning to England.

The installation also includes works by James Patton Chamberlain (1835-1911), George E. Perine (1837-1885), John Prendergast (1815-unknown), L. Groixlier and others.

A series of related programs have been organized by the Honolulu Museum of Art. For details, please visit honolulumuseum.org.

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