National Museum of Women in the Arts
Madge Tennent
June 22 1889 - February 05 1972
Photograph of Madge Tennent, ca. 1948, unknown photographer. Courtesy of Leslie Tennent
Place of Birth:
American, British – English
Phonetic Spelling:
maj TEHN-ehnt
Minority status:
White non-Hispanic
Work Type/Media:
Drawings and prints, Painting
Artistic Role(s):
Oil Painter, Painter, Pastelist, Portraitist, Watercolorist
Artist's Biography:
Although mainly associated with her images of Hawaiian women, Madge Tennent was born in England in 1889. Her family moved to Cape Town, South Africa where Tennent expressed early interests in drawing and reading. She attended the Cape Town School of Art and moved to Paris the following year to study with William-Adolphe Bouguereau at the Académie Julian. There she developed her skill in drawing and painting, spending her weekends at the Louvre and attending Impressionist exhibitions. She returned to South Africa in 1906 where she continued painting and began teaching art. In 1913 at age twenty-four, Tennent started her own art school in Cape Town. Two years later she married Hugh Cowper Tennent and moved to New Zealand.

In 1917, Tennent’s husband was appointed Treasurer to the Government of British Samoa. Tennent felt inspired by Polynesian culture and began painting more figurative works. She spent a few weeks in Australia where she studied with Julian Ashton whom she credited with teaching her how to draw seriously. In 1923, during a trip to London with her husband and two sons, Tennent and her family made what was intended to be a brief stop in Honolulu, Hawaii. Immediately attracted to the island, Tennent decided to stay. While her husband worked as an accountant, she painted portraits and taught art.

In Hawaii, Tennent became widely known for her large Impressionistic paintings of Hawaiian natives. Earlier in her career, her images that featured large, shapely forms of Hawaiian women were sometimes criticized as unflattering and accused of representing stereotypes. However, as Tennent became established in the community and continued painting portraits that reflected her love for Hawaii and its people, her artistic contribution became more widely appreciated.

Due to health concerns in 1965, Tennent stopped painting. Upon her death in 1972, the Hawaiian state legislature named her the best artist to interpret the Hawaiian people.

Other Occupation(s):
Director (Administration), Lecturer, Musician, Teacher, Writer
Place(s) of Residence:
New Zealand
Cape Town
Where Trained/Schools:
Académie Julian, Paris, France (1902-1906) Cape Town School of Art, Cape Town, South Africa (1901) Private lessons, Australia
Related Visual Artists:
daughter of Arthur Cook mother of Arthur Tennent student of William-Adolphe Bouguereau student of Julian Ashton influenced by Pierre-Auguste Renoir influenced by Paul Gauguin influenced by Pablo Picasso
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Award, 100 noteworthy individuals who made a lasting impact on 20th century Hawaii, Honolulu Centennial Commissions, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA (2005) Senate Resolution, In honor of the late Madge Tennent, Senate of the Sixth Legislature, Government of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA (1972)
Earliest exhibition:
Ferargil Gallery, New York, NY, USA (1935)
NMWA exhibition(s):
Preserving the Past, Securing the Future: Donations of Art, 1987-1997
Artist retrospective(s):
The Donald Angus Collection of Oil Paintings by Madge Tennent, Contemporary Arts Center, Honolulu, HI, USA (1968)
Related places
Honolulu (died at)
Queen Kaaahumanu, ca. 1955
Queen Kaaahumanu