Paul Emmert (or Emert)

Interior of the Old Fort at Honolulu (Fort Kekuanohu), c. 1853 - 1856
oil on fibrous board
8 x 10 in (20.32 x 25.40 cm)
17.50 x 19.50 in
Price on Request
Russians arrived in Hawaii in 1804 on ships associated with the Russian-American Fur Trading Company stationed at what is now Sitka, Alaska, to obtain fruit, vegetables and meat. On O‘ahu, in 1815, Kamehameha I granted visiting Russian representatives permission to build a storehouse near Honolulu Harbor. The Russians, under the direction of the German adventurer Georg Schaffer (1779-1836,) began building a fort and then raised the Russian flag. They built their blockhouse near the harbor, against the ancient heiau of Pākākā and close to the King’s complex. There are reports that the Russians used stones from the Pākākā heiau to building their facility. Pākākā was the site of Kauai’s King Kaumuali‘i’s negotiations relinquishing power to Kamehameha I, instead of going to war, and pledged allegiance to Kamehameha, a few years earlier in 1810. When Kamehameha discovered the Russians were building a fort (rather than storehouses) had used stones from Pākākā and had raised the Russian flag, he sent several chiefs, along with John Young (his advisor,) to remove the Russians from Oʻahu by force, if necessary. The Russians decamped for Kauai where they built a fort (Fort Elizabeth). The partially built blockhouse at Honolulu was then finished by Hawaiians under the direction of John Young and mounted guns protected the fort. The Fort's original purpose was to protect Honolulu by keeping enemy or otherwise undesirable ships out, but was also used as a garrison to keep prisoners.

By 1830, the fort had 40 guns mounted on the parapets all of various calibers (6, 8, 12 and probably a few 32 pounders.) Fort Kekuanohu literally means ‘the back of the scorpion fish,’ as in ‘thorny back,’ because of the rising guns on the walls. In 1838 there were 52 guns reported, these were removed by 1853. The fort protected Honolulu Harbor and also housed a number of administrative functions, including many years of service as Honolulu’s police headquarters. The first courts of the islands were held here until a new courthouse was built in 1853, adjacent to the fort. Barracks, Officers’ quarters, the Governor’s House, prison cells, a guardhouse and several powder magazines were inside the 340-by-300-foot long, 12-foot high and 20-foot thick walls. The main entrance faced mauka, up Fort Street. The fort’s massive 12-foot walls were torn apart and the fort dismantled in 1857 and used to fill the harbor to accommodate an expanding downtown. This painting depicts the fort without the guns bristling on the walls, and was therefore likely painted between 1853 when they were removed and 1857 when the fort was dismantled and the rubble used as fill at Honolulu Harbor.

Provenance: Originally in a Boston family with missionary ties to Hawaii, thence by descent within the family to a private antiques dealer 2011, presently with a private collection, Honolulu.

The painting has been examined by Barbara Pope of the Hawaii Historical Society and Theresa Papanikolos (former curator of Western Art at the Honolulu Art Museum).

Condition: This painting has been only lightly cleaned as a test of the paint, otherwise original condition. The support is a dense fibrous paper board, common to other known examples of Emmert's work. The frame, antique Dutch ripple, is a replacement of the previous frame which was not of the period.
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