Paul Emmert: Artist-Traveler

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    Paul Emmert (Swiss, 1826–1867). Puako, Kohala, Hawaii, c. 1859. watercolor on paper. Gift of Mary Charlotte Alexander, 1954 (20659).

October 08, 2011 - January 15, 2012
John Dominis and Patches Damon Holt Gallery (29)


Exhibition Overview

The Academy continues to spotlight artists active in Hawai‘i with a selection of drawings by the Swiss-born painter and draftsman Paul Emmert (1826‒1867). Born near Bern in 1826, Emmert immigrated to the United States at the age of 19, landing first in New York and then heading west with the discovery of gold in California. Ever the entrepreneur (and destined for a life of adventure), he ran the Bear Hotel in Sacramento and a theater in San Francisco, and he created a popular panorama of scenes from the gold fields.

In 1853, he became one of the many artist-travelers to come to Hawai‘i to satisfy the thriving market for images of the islands’ dramatic topography and singular culture. In Honolulu, he opened a print shop, where he made prints after his own drawings of local landmarks. Eventually, he moved to Kailua-Kona and farmed the sugar plantation where he lived out the remainder of his life. 

In his 14 years in Hawai‘i, Emmert made drawings of the mountains, coastlines, vegetation, and geophysical phenomena in and around O‘ahu, Maui, and the Island of Hawai‘i.  He recorded Diamond Head and Punchbowl craters, Nu‘uanu Valley, Waikïkï, Hilo, Lahaina, and numerous other locales, capturing their natural beauty before urbanization transformed them. In an exuberant, slightly naïve style, he embellished historical accuracy with aesthetic flourish, paying careful attention to detail and skillfully manipulating a variety of graphic media to create gemlike scenes of rare and captivating beauty that offer a glimpse into Hawai‘i’s past. –Theresa Papanikolas, Curator of European and American Art