I was so sure that after I was here in Hawaii a year ago, I did a Blog on a wonderful local artist, but find this was not the case. My first day here we went into the small, very choice museum in Waimea to say hello to the director who is the aunt of my sheep shearer.
MADGE TENNENT was a naturalized American artist, born in England, raised in South Africa, and trained in France. And while she ranks among the most accomplished and globally renowned artists ever to have lived and worked in Hawaii, she is not today that well known internationally,.something the locals are trying to amend!
Madge's parents took a lively interest in comparative creeds that embraced many religions, as well as in matters of psychic and astrological trend. Their efforts to promote tolerance among various races and creeds left a lasting impression on Madge.
A child prodigy, Madge spent her formative teenage years in Paris, where she honed technical mastery under the tutelage of William-Adolph Bouguereau. She was also exposed to the city's leading avant-garde artists, including Cezanne, Renoir and Picasso, who influenced her pioneering vision.
After her marriage in 1915 to Hugh Cowper Tennent, she relocated to his native New Zealand. In 1917 they moved to British Samoa where Madge started her love affair with the Polynesian peoples. While on leave in Australia, she studied with Julian Ashton “and learned” she said, “to draw for the very first time". Julian Ashton founded the Sydney Art School in 1890. He was an ardent disciple of Impressionist painting, having served as an art educator in South Africa, New Zealand, and British Samoa.
The Tennents arrived in Honolulu with their two young sons in 1923, planning on a three-day stop before continuing on to London to enroll the boys in a proper British boarding school. Almost immediately they were introduced to members of the local artistic community, who saw her Samoan studies and begged her to stay and paint the Hawaiians. She needed no further persuasion.
|Lei Queen Fantasia|
“The Hawaiians are really to me the most beautiful people in the world:, she once said, “no doubt about it – the Hawaiian is a piece of living sculpture. They are strong, serene and proud.” . Using grand swirls of oil Madge portrayed Hawaiian women as solidly fleshed and majestic- larger than life - capturing in rhythmic forms the very essence of their being.
Her method of applying thick layers of paint to achieve a graceful, perfectly balanced composition is evident in “Lei Queen Fantasia”. Everything on the canvas whirls. The paint is applied in whirls in what might be called the “Tennent whirl” – the colors bright and luminous. Madge envisioned Hawaiian Kings and Queens as having descended from Gods of heroic proportion, intelligent and brave, bearing a strong affinity to the Greeks in their legends and persons. She was criticized for her portrayal of larger size women but to her Hawaiian women fulfilled the standards of classic Greek Beauty.
In Madge's enchantment with color and use of the bright, warm hues she gave us insight into the colors endemic to Hawaiʻi. Generously applying paint with a palette knife, she avoided sensuousness in the representation of skin texture, instead imbuing the trademark sense of strength and grandeur tinged with a fragility. Just as she constructed her women layer by layer in paint, she built her canvases to equally monumental proportions; when standard issue could no longer satisfy her vision, she sewed pieces of canvas together to attain the desired size.
|Dancer at Rest|
Her refusal to feel entirely satisfied with her output, even in the face of widespread acclaim, reflected her conviction that the artist “evolves through conscious effort.” This conscious evolution became strikingly apparent in the early 1940s, when her famously vibrant, swirling colors and thick, granular strokes gave way to a subdued monochrome. Thereafter followed paintings in shades of ocean blues and earthy island sepias on linen.
Madge's prolific output spanned paintings, drawing and sculpture. Her reverent fascination with Hawaiian women inspired her sweeping aesthetic quest that would culminate in her iconic signature style, resulting in enormous paintings of voluptuous female figures of brilliant, swirling hues morphing into graceful, harmonious compositions.