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Places on Oahu: The Honolulu Museum of Art

Basic Information

  • Name: The Honolulu Museum of Art
  • Where: Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Founded: 1922
  • Cost: Adults: $20, Kamaaina: $10, 18 and under: Free
  • Hours: Tuesday-Sunday: 10am-4:30pm. Closed Mondays
  • More Information: HonoluluMuseum.org

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

Narrative

The Hawaiian capital city of Honolulu is filled with many museums.  One of my family’s favorites is the Honolulu Museum of Art.  Considering the size of Honolulu and how far away it is from other major population centers I found the Honolulu Museum of Art to be surprisingly quite impressive.  The museum was founded in 1922 by Anna Rice Cooke.  The Cooke name is well known in Hawaii due to the fortune the family made during the Kingdom of Hawaii timeframe exporting sugar.  The family’s wealth allowed Anna Cooke to purchase many pieces of art over the decades.  Her personal art collection is what was used to open the original Honolulu Museum of Art in her home she donated for the museum.  Her home was eventually torn down and the current museum built in its place:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

The Honolulu Museum of Art today houses one of the largest collections of Pacific and Asian art in the world.  Visiting the museum is very affordable.  For Hawaii residents the admission is only $10 and for kids 18 and under it is free.  My kids and I decided to visit the museum by first eating lunch and then spending the afternoon walking through its collections.  The cafe inside the museum features open air seating with very good customer service:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

The food at the cafe is a bit pricey, but was very good since it was made with as many fresh ingredients from Hawaii as possible.  Here is a link to the menu.

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

After eating our tasty lunch we then followed the prescribed route through the museum.  The first collection we saw featured Egyptian, Greek, and European art:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

The artwork was nice, but we were more interested in seeing the Hawaiian and Pacific island art.  So we walked over to where the Hawaiian art collection was located and unsurprisingly Hawaii’s volcanos were a popular feature to paint.  Here is a painting by Jules Tavernier who traveled to Hawaii in 1884 and became well known for creating his style of volcano art:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

Tavernier spent the last five years of his life painting Hawaii’s volcanos.  He died in 1889 from what was believed to be alcoholism.  When I visited the Oahu Cemetery I actually saw the grave site where Tavernier is buried.

Volcano art would continue to be a popular art form for painters who moved to Hawaii, such as Charles Furneaux who painted this picture of Halemaumau Crater in 1888:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

Painters visiting Hawaii would often go to Kilauea just to paint the volcano which is what Arthur Ambrose did in 1917 when he painted a portrait titled, The House of Everlasting Fire:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

Another volcano artist Lionel Walden painted this picture simply titled, Volcano in 1915:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

Another volcano painted on the Big Island was of Hualalai by James Gay Sawkins in 1852 in his portrait titled, Kailua Kona with Hualalai, Hulihee Palace, and Church:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

Kilauea is not the only landscape that was popular to paint.  The iconic Diamond Head Crater in Honolulu was also popular to paint like Jules Tavernier did in his portrait titled, Sunrise Over Diamond Head in 1888:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

The below portrait of Diamond Head from Punchbowl Crater I found interesting because it showed the military fortifications that once existed on the crater during the time of the Kingdom of Hawaii.  The guns were never fired in defense of the city, but were often used for celebratory purposes such as welcoming a visiting foreign delegation or celebrating a royal birth.  The portrait titled, View of Honolulu from Punchbowl, was painted by Anders Elias Jorgensen in 1875:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

Diamond Head and Punchbowl were not the only Oahu craters painted.  Joseph Henry Sharp painted Koko Head Crater in 1930:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

Sharp however, was best known for his paintings of Native-Americans and even opened his own studio in 1909 in one of my favorite American cities Taos, New Mexico.  Starting in 1930 Sharp began spending winters in Hawaii where he painted a number of landscape portraits of Oahu.

Paintings of people are also featured at the Honolulu Museum of Art.  One of my favorites was the below portrait titled, The Lei Maker by Theodore Wores in 1901.  Women selling leis to visitors arriving by ship was a common sight back in the early 1900’s:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

One of the most famous paintings at the Honolulu Museum of Art is by French Artist Paul Gauguin.  He moved to Tahiti in 1891 to paint what he thought would be a more simple life in the tropics.  His portrait below titled, Two Nudes On A Tahitian Beach was painted in 1894:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

Besides paintings of commoners, portraits of Hawaiian royalty were also on display such as King Kamehameha III:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

His sister Nahi’ena’ena also had a portrait made:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

Both portraits were painted by the British artist Robert Dampier in 1825.  Dampier was traveling on the HMS Blonde which was returning the bodies of King Kamehameha II and his wife, Queen Kamamalu who both died from measles during a trip to England.

Besides old art, the museum also has new art such as this carved foam and tar sculpture of the Disney character Snitch by New Zealand artist Brett Graham in 2014:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

There is also a very life like sculpture of Albert Einstein’s head as well:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

The next section of the museum my kids and I visited was the section filled with art from various Asian nations.  The section with art from Indonesia was pretty interesting :

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

This 19th century life like carving of a person were commissioned by royalty and the wealthy to place next to their funeral caskets:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

Boats were extremely important to access isolated areas of Borneo by boat.  Models of these boats were commissioned by chiefs to hang over their funeral rites so they would have a means to transport their soul to the land of the dead:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

Probably the most impressive thing we saw in the Indonesian art section of the museum was its wide variety of masks:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

The level of detail on these makes was impressive:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

We next moved into the Indian art area where we saw this statue of the Hindu god Vishnu:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

Another interesting statue we saw was from the 14th century of a Dancing Krishna:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

This 17th century Indian paneling I found to be quite impressive because of its intricate detail:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

My kids liked looking at the large bull’s head on display.  The 18th century wood sculpture is of of a bull named Nandi that the Hindu god Shiva used as transportation:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

We next went and checked out the area with Japanese artwork.  Of course statues of the Buddha were on display such as this wood sculpture from the 12th or 13th century:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

This next wood and gold Japanese Buddha was from the 15th century:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

It would not be a Japanese art section without some decorative katana swords on display:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

Likewise it would not be a Japanese art area without a tea set on display as well:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

My favorite artwork in the Japanese section though was the various paintings from, The 53 Stations of the Tokaido:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

The paintings are a series that show the various stations along the Tokaido Road in Japan.  The Tōkaidō was constructed by Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu in the early 1600’s to connect the capital of Edo with the major southern city of Kyoto.  During a trip up the Tokaido Road in 1832 the artist Utagawa Hiroshige painted a scene from each station he stopped at along the road.  The museum has these scenes currently on display:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

Something else I found of interest was how even in the 1800’s the Japanese published comic books known as manga:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

In the small Chinese section of the museum we saw a very impressive Buddhist sculpture on display from the 11th century Tang Dynasty.  The wooden sculpture is of Guanyin the Buddhist God of Compassion:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

There was also a small Korean art section which featured a number of celadon pottery items such as this 18th century jar:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

Another piece of celadon pottery on display was this 19th century Korean wine bottle:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

We next visited the American art area.  One of the items that drew our attention was this large head of a man-jaguar from south-central Mexico that dates from at least the 11th century:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

We also saw some daggers from the native people in the Pacific Northwest that dates back to the 19th century:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

We next found a section of the museum that had a piece of artwork on display from the famous French painter Oscar-Claude Monet.  The painting titled, Water Lilies was of a pond on Monet’s property along the Seine River outside of Paris.  He painted it in 1919:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

There was also a painting on display by famed Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh.  The painting on display is called, Wheat Field and was painted in 1888:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

Looking at a painting from Monet and Van Gogh at least they painted something that could be interpreted.  However, when I look at this mess from American painter Morris Louis it just looks like a giant curtain to me:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

This is an abstract painting that I guess only an art critic can love.  Another mess I saw was this contraption built of leather and saw blades by American artist Lee Bontecou:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

The contraption looked horrible and the old leather smelled even worse.  Once again this is apparently a piece of art that critics love.  After spending about 2 hours at the museum my kids and I next walked across the street to the Honolulu Museum of Art School:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

Visitor admission into the school is free to see the small gallery they have on display there by its students.  Some of the art work was nice, but the museum definitely had far more interesting artwork:

Picture from the Honolulu Museum of Art

Conclusion

I found the Honolulu Museum of Art to be a great place to spend an afternoon.  Even my young kids enjoyed seeing all the different art especially the Hawaiian and Asian artwork that they can more easily relate to living here in Hawaii.  I also highly recommend eating lunch here as part of any visit because of how tasty the food at the cafe was.  Finally the admission for a local is very cheap.  It cost me $10 to get in with my Hawaii ID card and both my kids were free.  There are few places in Honolulu where $10 can provide a great cultural and artistic experience for the entire family.

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