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Utamaro print showing


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Charles Bartlett (1860-1940)


Charles Bartlett (1860-1940) was born in England and studied at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, where he trained in painting and etching. After three years of study in London, he entered the private-studio school Académie Julian in Paris, where he studied under Jules Joseph Lefebvre (1836–1911) and Gustave Boulanger (1824–1888), where he was introduced to the arts of Asia, possibly through Boulanger. After returning to England in 1889, Bartlett met Emily Francis Tate, whom he married in April 1890. Sadly, about a year or so later, she died in childbirth, as did their infant son. Bartlett then traveled in Italy and France (including Brittany) with the painter, etcher, and printmaker Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956), and for a time in Holland with the Anglo-Dutch painter and illustrator Nico Jungmann (1872-1935). It was Brangwyn who might have been the first to show ukiyo-e prints to Bartlett. He had exhibitions of his oil paintings, drawings, and watercolors in the 1890s and was elected a member of the Société des Aquarellistes Belges in 1897. By the first decade of the twentieth century, Bartlett was considered a master watercolorist in Europe, and in 1908 he was among those who established the Société de la Peinture à l'Eau (Society of Watercolorists).

Charles Bartlett: Taj Mahal at Sunset (c. 1919)
Woodblock print, published by Watanabe Shôzaburô

During a tour of Asia with his second wife Kate Main, whom he married in December 1898, Bartlett met the publisher Watanabe Shôzaburô in 1915. The artist's watercolors attracted the prescient and business-savvy publisher, and the two collaborated on transforming Bartlett's images from India and Japan into woodblock prints. When Bartlett left Japan in 1917, he settled in Honolulu, although he continued to work with Watanabe, even including some shin hanga images of Hawaiian surfers for an exhibition in Japan in 1919 (see below). Bartlett's works were also shown with those of other shin hanga artists, such as Yamamura Kôka, Itô Shinsui, and Hiroshi Yoshida. While in Japan, the Bartletts also befriended the print artist Elizabeth Keith.

The view of the Taj Mahal illustrated here confirms the successful collaboration between Bartlett and Watanabe. The publisher had just initiated a full-scale attempt to create the shin hanga movement, employing master block cutters and printers to translate into the woodblock medium a wide variety of sketches by native Japanese and Western artists. In Bartlett's Taj Mahal, the play of light and dark values is most effective. The famous mausoleum does not dominate the scene as in most depictions (see Yoshida), but instead complements other elements of the design. Bartlett chose instead to depict a partial view, with the main section positioned in the background and illuminated in a bath of sunlight. The greater contrast and more highly charged chromatic values are given to the structures on the building's wings and to the trees. The warm intensity of the foreground hills differs from other impressions of this design. Bartlett wrote the following in his sketchbook: "The red sandstone wall with its corner towers throws into relief the pearly quality of this unique mausoleum."

Charles Bartlett: "Hawaii: The Surf Rider" (c. 1919)
Woodblock print, second state, published by Watanabe Shôzaburô, c. 1920-21

In January 1917, Bartlett and Kate arrived in Honolulu after a trip around the world. They found the climate and people much to their liking, and after a successful exhibition of Bartlett's works, decided to remain permanently. During his twenty-three years in the islands, Bartlett produced more than 90 woodcuts and etchings. Of these, there appears to be only three designs on Hawaiian themes made with woodblocks (by Watanabe) and another ten executed as etchings hand-colored with watercolors. Around 1918, he created "Hawaii: The Surf Rider" (also known as "The Surf King: The Duke"), said to be a depiction of the Olympic swimming champion Duke Kahanamoku. In the first version, the solitary figure is illuminated by sunlight, revealing his face and the red color of the swimming costume. In the second state shown below, circa 1920-21, the figure is in shadow, thus obscuring color and darkening the details of the face. There is as well a halo of mist around the figure and spray of water covering his feet that are not present in the earlier version.

Works by Bartlett can be found in many private collections as well as in public institutions, including the Bradford Museums and Galleries (West Yorkshire, UK); Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, England; Cleveland Museum of Art; Honolulu Museum of Art, Hawai'i; Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; and Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art (University of Oregon). The largest and arguably most important collection appears to be the one in Hawai'i. © 2020 by John Fiorillo


  • Miles, Richard, Saville, Jennifer: A Printmaker in Paradise: The Art and Life of Charles W. Bartlett. Honolulu Academy of Arts, 2001.
  • Stephens, Amy Reigle (ed.): The New Wave: Twentieth Century Japanese Prints from the Robert O. Muller Collection. London & Leiden: Bamboo Publishing & Hotei Japanese Prints, 1993, pp. 211-213, plates 290-295.
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