A Great Frontier Odyssey: Sketching the American West

A new traveling exhibition documenting the 1873 overland journey of artists Jules Tavernier and Paul Frenzeny, A Great Frontier Odyssey: Sketching the American West, will be on display at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum from March 17 to May 12, 2019. The opening of the West after the Civil War drew a flood of Americans and immigrants to the frontier. The public clamored for images of the newly accessible American West, prompting Harper Brothers’ publishing firm in New York to send Tavernier and Frenzeny on a trip West to provide readers with images of the frontier.

The prints in A Great Frontier Odyssey trace the artists’ journey to San Francisco. Depicting newsworthy places or events that favored the plight of the common man, their artistic and journalistic talent and keen powers of observation made them a powerful team; Tavernier created each engraving’s watercolor painting before handing it off to Frenzeny, who added newsworthy details and drew the scene in pencil on wood blocks.      

Natives of France, both artists came to the American frontier and their documentary project with fresh eyes. Paul Frenzeny, a Frenchman of noble descent, was one of the leading "special correspondents" in the United States and Europe when woodcuts, rather than photographs, were used to illustrate newspapers. He became an illustrator of choice for Western Adventure stories and for such famous novels as Anna Karenina and the Jungle Book. He also worked as a rider in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in London, where he spent the rest of his life. Jules Tavernier, a celebrated French painter, became one of the American West’s foremost talents. Remaining in California after completing his work for Harper’s, Tavernier returned to painting and became one of the most successful and best paid artists on the west coast. His studios in San Francisco and Monterey became hubs for California's developing art scene.