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Portrait of Kamehameha by Choris


Image from Bishop Museum Archives, Honolulu, Hawaii. Images are not to be re-used without permission.

"Tammeamea." 1816-1817, watercolor by Louis Choris.

On November 24, 1816, Louis Choris, an artist on a Russian expedition to Hawai`i under the direction of Otto von Kotzebue, painted this portrait of King Kamehameha I clad in a red vest. Earlier that morning, Kamehameha greeted the foreigners dressed in a malo and a black kapa cloak. By the time Kamehameha arrived to the portrait sitting, he changed his attire to “blue trousers, a red waistcoat, a clean white shirt and a necktie of yellow silk.” Choris describes King Kamehameha’s costuming as that of a “sailor.”

By 1816, Kamehameha, in dealing with visitors to Hawai`i, owned numerous garments of foreign origin (including both British and Russian naval uniforms). Could the choice of wearing indigenous attire for greeting the Russian expedition and the subsequent donning of the garment of a “sailor,” have been a purposeful decision or simply a matter of comfort? In either case, Kamehameha’s decision prevented the possibility of slighting the Russian visitors by wearing a British uniform. It also prevented a show of alliance with Russia in the aftermath of the Russian political aggression in Hawai`i enacted by Georg Anton Scheffer.

Collection: Art Collection
Call Number: Art. People. Kamehameha.
Location: Bishop Museum Archives