The Jean Charlot Collection is a major archive of documents and art works relating to the artist and writer Jean Charlot (1898 Paris-1979 Honolulu) and to those with whom he came in contact over his long career in France, Mexico, the United States and the Pacific. Since the founding donation in 1981, the Collection has been considerably expanded by further gifts from his wife Zohmah Charlot, other family members, and from Charlot's collaborators, such as the important fine art printer Lynton Kistler and print scholar Peter Morse. The Collection is housed on the 5th floor in the University of Hawaii's Hamilton Library.
Jean Charlot was an artist, teacher, scholar, critic, poet, and playwright. He studied at the École des Beaux Arts, and served in the French Army from 1918 to 1920. After the war he moved to Mexico, where he had relatives, and joined a group of other young artists in the Mexican Mural Renaissance of the 1920s. Charlot's fresco mural in the Preparatoria Nacional was the first of many he completed. While in Mexico, he wrote numerous articles on art, among them the first on the Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe Posada, and worked as an archeologist and illustrator with the Carnegie expedition to Chichen Itza. In the 1930s, Charlot lived and worked in New York, also spending time in California and Iowa. During the 1940s, he worked in Georgia, Mexico and Colorado. In 1949, he was invited by the University of Hawaii to paint a mural. He remained there as Professor of art, traveling extensively in the United States, the Pacific, and Asia. He died in Honolulu in 1979, at the age of 81.
As an artist, Charlot's international reputation rests on his more than sixty murals in the United States and Mexico, more than 700 prints, and over 1300 paintings. His drawings and numerous illustrated books are also widely known and admired. His high standing as a scholar and historian of art is largely independent of his own painting. He is the author of some twenty five books on art, including the definitive studies of the Mexican Mural Renaissance, the Academy of San Carlos, and, as co-author, the Temple of the Warriors at Chichen Itza. He also authored a large number of scholarly and popular articles on numerous aspects of the arts.
His output of drawings, paintings, murals, prints, cartoons, books, articles, and other writings was prodigious. His life was full of significant connections within the intellectual and political milieu of the diverse communities where he lived — with artists and writers, with art and educational institutions, with the Roman Catholic Church, with indigenous and working people. With his wife, Zohmah Day Charlot (1909-2000), he nurtured students and friendships, maintained links lasting many years, and with his fine sense of history preserved many tangible records of his experience. He observed events and people precisely and wrote succinctly.
In accordance with his wish to make the records of his life and work available for research and education, the Jean Charlot Collection was donated by his heirs to the University of Hawai‘i in 1981 and opened in 1983. It is an outstanding collection of artist’s papers—the artworks and documentary materials that illuminate the study of an artist’s life, significant achievements and associations. Today it attracts students and researchers from all over the world. Items from the collection have been exhibited nationally and internationally.
As a result of Charlot’s vision, the Archive of Hawai‘i Artists and Architects (AHA&A) was established for papers and records of related Hawai‘i artists and architects. These archives began as an extension of the Charlot Collection, with donations from the heirs and friends of Juliette May Fraser, David Asherman, John Melville Kelly, Madge Tennent, Isami Doi, John Wisnosky, Francis Haar, Vladimir Ossipoff and others.
Jean Charlot’s own publications and his personal library are the foundations of the book and journal collection, with over 2,500 titles listed in the Library’s online catalog. Its strengths include Mexican art and rare Mexican imprints; graphics and book illustration especially lithography; mural painting including fresco; liturgical art; exhibition catalogs; and the works of French writer and philosopher, Paul Claudel. Over 900 of these books are inscribed to Charlot, from their authors, illustrators, or subjects. Charlot wrote books, articles, poems, essays, and plays in French, Spanish, Náhuatl, English and Hawaiian. Books may be searched in the Library's online catalog.
Charlot was also a noted illustrator, especially for children's books. The collection is comprehensive in coverage from books written or illustrated by Charlot, to writings on Charlot; most are freely available in full online through the Jean Charlot Foundation site.
The collection includes the master set of his prints—772 images created over 63 years—together with states and progressives from each stage of the process, and many metal plates, wood and linoleum blocks. This material is fully documented in Jean Charlot’s Prints: a Catalogue Raisonné, by Peter Morse (University Press of Hawaii and Jean Charlot Foundation, 1976); and its Supplement, 1983.
There are over 1,500 works on paper. They include cartoons for his many murals; portraits of historical figures, family members and fellow artists; sketches from archaeological sites in the Yucatán from his Mexico years; a series proposing sets and costumes for three of his Hawaiian stage plays; and a lifetime of sketchbooks.
Charlot was a successful easel painter, completing nearly 1,400 oils on canvas. The collection holds a small number of these—most are in institutional and private collections in France, Mexico and the United States—and also some of his smaller bronze sculptures and ceramics.
Select the Artworks by Jean Charlot tab for a more detailed description of the scope of art in each category.
Charlot collected and studied work that inspired him, including 18th and 19th century European prints, especially those of Honoré Daumier and the 19th century popular prints from the French town of Épinal, known collectively as “images d’Épinal.” In Mexico he collected the penny sheets of José Guadalupe Posada and built an outstanding collection. A selection of the latter is shown in the exhibition catalogue José Guadalupe Posada: My Mexico (University of Hawai‘i Art Gallery, 2001). The Posada Collection is so extensive that there is a separate guide listing all of the works.
The holdings include Pacific ethnographic art that Charlot acquired. In 2005, the collection was given an important gift of 19th century Mexican folk art and pre-Hispanic pots once belonging to Charlot’s maternal grandfather.
Charlot collected or was given art by artists with whom he worked or about whom he wrote. These include Mexican artists such as Xavier Guerrero, Leopoldo Méndez, Pablo O’Higgins, José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Alfredo Zalce; the Guatemalan Carlos Mérida; and internationally known photographers such as Tina Modotti and Edward Weston. Among the American artists are Louis Eilshemius, Lowell Houser, Henrietta Shore, Dorothea Tanning, and numerous artists from Hawai‘i. Work by Modotti and Weston can be seen in a separate guide to photographers.
Private documents and papers such as Charlot’s pocket diaries kept daily from 1922 to 1979, correspondence with noted artists and scholars, recorded interviews, his exhibition record, and his awards and honors are all included in the collection. In addition, there are records and documentary photographs concerning Charlot’s own art and the works of others. His research notes and drafts for published and unpublished writings are in English, French, Spanish, Hawaiian, and Náhuatl. Family letters, scrapbooks, guest books, and a remarkable collection of Christmas and other greeting cards were added after the death of Zohmah Charlot. These papers are enhanced by the addition of extensive correspondence, research and information files compiled by Charlot’s son and biographer, John Pierre Charlot, and previous curators of the collection, Peter Morse, Nancy Morris, and Bronwen Solyom.
Among the unpublished materials can be found an article in French on the Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros, written in the 1920s; a chapter written for Charlot's The Mexican Mural Renaissance but not published; a large project on the Apocalypse realized in collaboration with the major French poet Paul Claudel; unpublished research, including transcriptions of the Journal of Désiré Louis Maigret, 19th century Pacific missionary and first Roman Catholic Bishop of Hawaii; a full-length English language play on a pre-contact Hawaiian subject; and poetry written from Charlot's youth into his middle years.
These include commercial and private audio-recordings, films and videotapes of Charlot’s lectures, public television appearances, and life with his family, as well as documentary materials made by others about his life and work. Most are included in the Library's online catalog; a few of the films and audio recordings are available streaming.
Preserved from all stages of Charlot’s life these include toys and household items from his French childhood, his World War I French military uniform, well-loved objects from his homes, and materials he was using for his last paintings and prints.
Mahalo to the Jean Charlot Estate LLC. for permission to post copyrighted images and text by Jean Charlot on this site for educational purposes.