Madge Tennent was both well trained and well traveled before she arrived in Hawaii in 1923. She was born Madeline Cook in Doulwich, England, in 1889. When she was five she moved with her family to Cape Town, South Africa. At the age of twelve, she entered an art school in Cape Town, and the following year her parents, who recognized and encouraged her talent, moved to Paris to enable Madeline to study there. In Paris, she studied figure drawing under William Bouguereau, an experience that laid the technical foundation for her later figural drawings and paintings. She and her family subsequently returned to South Africa, and after her marriage in 1915 to Hugh Cowper Tennenet, she relocated to his native New Zealand. In 1917 Hugh Tennent accepted a position as treasurer to the government of British Samoa. During her stay in Samoa, the artist became fascinated with Polynesians, and while on a leave of several months in Australia, Tennent studied with Julian Ashton “and learned,” she said, “to draw seriously for the first time.”
In 1923 the Tennents left Samoa to go to England, stopping in Hawaii. They were entranced with the islands and were persuaded to stay, beginning what was described by an acquaintance as “the most compatible of marriages between Madge Tennent the artist and the golden people of Hawaii.” Tennent helped support her family with commissions to paint and draw portraits of children. A friend’s gift of a book on Gauguin set her on an artistic course that lasted fifty years, during which she portrayed Hawaiian women in a style that increasingly became her own.
Tennent had one-person shows at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, and her works have been exhibited in London, Paris, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco as well as frequently in Honolulu. An important exhibition of her oil paintings was held at the Comtemporary Arts Center, Honolulu Advertiser Gallery, in 1968. In failing health, Tennent stopped working in 1965, when she was seventy-six. She died in Honolulu on February 5, 1972.
The above information and photos are taken from Encounters with Paradise by David W. Forbes, courtesy Honolulu Academy of Arts.