Saturday | March 25, 2017
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Rhythm in the Round: Exhibition at HPA’s Isaacs Art Center showcases 50 years of Madge Tennent’s work

The Isaacs Art Center at Hawaii Preparatory Academy presents a major monographic exhibition, “Rhythm in the Round: The Modernism of Madge Tennent,” opening today through Nov. 12. The exhibition showcases five decades of Tennent’s work.

An opening reception is from 5-7 p.m. today. The reception and exhibition are free and open to the public.

Tennent’s legacy “towers above the entire roster of painters ever to have worked in Hawaii in terms of originality and breadth of vision,” said David W. Forbes, author of “Encounters with Paradise.”

Rhythm in the Round includes more than 40 works by one of the most pioneering and prolific artists to have worked in Hawaii, featuring prints and paintings created while the artist lived in Paris; Cape Town, South Africa; New Zealand; British Samoa; and Hawaii. Drawn largely from the Tennent Art Foundation Collection, entrusted to Hawaii Preparatory Academy in 2005, this survey explores Tennent’s trajectory from a young prodigy in training at the renowned Académie Julian into a monumental legend in the annals of Hawaiian art.

Interspersing Tennent’s works among those of her predecessors, peers and successors, this exhibition underscores Tennent’s pivotal place in and indelible impact on the art of Hawaii, and positions her within broader contexts of 20th-century depictions of Hawaiian culture, the islands’ transition to statehood and contemporaneous discourses on ethnicity and gender.

“The Isaacs Art Center is honored to be the home of Madge Tennent’s seminal work,” said Mollie Hustace, director of the Isaacs Art Center. “This monumental show features her signature paintings that embrace the ideal beauty, regal nature and dynamic culture of the Hawaiian people she so revered.”

Tennent transformed the world’s vision of the Islands and their inhabitants. Born in 1889 in London and raised in Cape Town, she demonstrated promising talent as a child. At age 12, just months into her training at the Académie Julian in Paris, Tennent was invited to study directly under renowned master William-Adolphe Bouguereau, who saw in her the makings of a great artist. Having completed her training, she married Hugh Cowper Tennent in 1915 and followed him first to his native New Zealand and then to British Samoa.

En route to London in 1923, the Tennent family stopped in Honolulu and was persuaded to stay. Hawaii’s bright, tropical hues fueled the artist’s enchantment with color and she adapted line and form to the vivid medium of oil. The culture and heritage of Hawaii’s “golden people” quickly set Tennent’s imagination ablaze and she devoted decades to developing an aesthetic that emphasized the unique qualities of Native Hawaiians: curvaceous forms, voluminous garments, serene faces and implicit nobility.

In her “Autobiography of an Unarrived Artist,” Tennent wrote, “I have built my Hawaiian figures in art, in the manner of building a cathedral: cathedrals are built slowly, and the people who build them seldom experience the joy of seeing their life work completed, but are sustained only by the instinctive faith that their work is important and beautiful.”

In the mid-1930s, she began executing the colossal, chromatic and curvaceous oils of Hawaiian women that remain her signature today. Her iconic Hawaiian wahine were exhibited to critical ac