Jean Charlot

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Jean

Charlot

Paris, France
<p>Image: Charlot in 1917. Courtesy University of Hawaii at Manoa Library</p>

Louis Henri Jean Charlot was born in Paris, France, in 1898 to a Bolshevik father and Catholic mother whose family was from Mexico. He was educated at the Lycée Condorcet, one of the oldest and most prestigious schools in Paris, and went on to study art at the influential École des Beaux-Arts. Shortly after the start of World War I, Charlot’s family moved to St.-Mandé, at the outskirts of Paris. Charlot began painting landscapes in the nearby countryside and developed what was to become his lifelong interest in folk imagery.

Image: Charlot in 1917. Courtesy University of Hawaii at Manoa Library

Rhineland, Germany
<p>Image: African Senegalese soldiers marching down a street in a town in France during World War I. George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA</p>

Near the end of World War I, Jean Charlot was drafted into the army and sent to the Rhineland, Germany, which was then occupied by France and other countries. In the army, he worked as an artillery lieutenant and as an officer for Senegalese troops fighting for France. This was one of the first occasions that Charlot had contact with people from outside Western Europe; he developed close relationships with the platoon and became fascinated with foreign cultures. During the occupation, Charlot also had the opportunity to view sixteenth century German master paintings. According to the artist, even though they were “a big influence… I always go back to folk art.”

Image: African Senegalese soldiers marching down a street in a town in France during World War I. George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Chichén Itzá, Mexico
<p>Image: <em>"</em>Illustration from A Preliminary Study of the Ruins of Coba, Quintana Roo, Mexico."<br />
Courtesy University of Hawaii at Manoa Library</p>

In the early 1920s, Charlot moved with his mother from France to Mexico, whose cultural heritage was to inform him throughout his career. Between 1926 and 1928, he joined a Carnegie Institution expedition to Chichén Itzá in the Yucatán, where he traced and copied objects excavated from Mayan temples, documenting their painted surfaces and relief carving. His archaeological renderings and descriptions were published in A Preliminary Study of the Ruins of Coba, Quintana Roo, Mexico, a document that helped shape the world’s knowledge of Mayan civilization. During his time in Mexico, he also painted his first frescos and assisted Diego Rivera on the celebrated muralist’s first governmental commission.

Image: "Illustration from A Preliminary Study of the Ruins of Coba, Quintana Roo, Mexico."
Courtesy University of Hawaii at Manoa Library

Asheville, North Carolina: BMC
<p>Image: Charlot painting "Knowledge." Courtesy Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina, Asheville, NC.</p>

In the summer of 1944, Charlot was in transition between teaching positions – and decided to accept Josef Albers’s invitation to teach at Black Mountain. As a part if the summer art institute, Charlot taught courses in drawing and painting from nature. One of the projects that became a focus for the college community was Charlot’s frescos, Knowledge and Inspiration, painted on the pylons of the newly constructed Studies Building and inspired by Mexican muralism.

Image: Charlot painting "Knowledge." Courtesy Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina, Asheville, NC.

Manoa, Hawaii
<p>Image: "Relation of Man and Nature in Old Hawaii". First floor, Bachman Hall, University of Hawai'i, Honolulu, Hawai'i, 10 feet x 29 feet. October 17-November 25, 1949. Courtesy University of Hawaii at Manoa Library</p>

In 1949, Jean Charlot was invited to create a fresco at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, where he was subsequently appointed professor of art. Hawaii became the permanent residence of Charlot and his family. He immersed himself in the study of the culture of Hawaii including its history and language, and wrote plays in Hawaiian. Charlot completed many impressive murals throughout Hawaii.

Image: "Relation of Man and Nature in Old Hawaii". First floor, Bachman Hall, University of Hawai'i, Honolulu, Hawai'i, 10 feet x 29 feet. October 17-November 25, 1949. Courtesy University of Hawaii at Manoa Library