Tuesday, January 23, 2001
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Posted on: Tuesday, January 23, 2001

Two royal portraits found in Ireland are returned to Isles

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

This is the amazing story of how a pair of portraits of King Kamehameha II and his wife, Queen Kamamalu, found their way from an obscure farm in Ireland to Iolani Palace after 150 years of wandering the globe. It involves an uncanny series of events.

John Loring of Tiffany & Co. and Corinne Chun of 'Iolani Palace show off the portraits of King Kamehameha II and Queen Kamamalu.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

It’s also the story of ties between a Hawai
i institution, Iolani Palace and an American corporation, Tiffany & Co., which have become bound together in unexpected ways.

It began with a photo shoot.

John Loring, design director of Tiffany & Co. and author of numerous books on style and design, spent a day at Iolani Palace in 1985, styling a photo of a royal table setting for his book "Tiffany Taste."

While the lights were being set up, he toured the palace with then curator Jim Bartels.

Among the paintings he saw were portraits of King Kamehameha II and his wife, Queen Kamamalu, painted by French artist Eugenie Lebrun.

Bartels told Loring that these portraits had been presented to the kingdom of Hawaii by King George IV, after the tragic deaths of Kamehameha II and Kamamalu from measles while on a visit to the English king in 1824.

They were likely painted from images court painter John Hayter had sketched when the couple was still alive.

The faces, though somewhat stiff and formal, stayed in Loring’s mind.

A year after seeing the paintings at Iolani Palace, Loring was on one of his frequent scouting trips, in this case seeking out some pieces of Georgian woodwork on a remote farm in Kanturk, Ireland. Their sleuthing completed, he and Irish designer Sybil Connolly had planned a picnic. But rain canceled that and they eventually ended up in the collector’s living room.

There, propped under a lamp, Loring was flabbergasted to see a portrait of King Kamehameha II.

"I just blurted out, What on earth is that doing here?’" Loring recalled. "The collector said he thought it was a Haitian officer in Napoleon’s army. And, (the collector ) added, His wife’s over there,’ indicating a pile of magazines behind the sofa."

Indeed, Queen Kamamalu’s portrait was there as well.

A knowledgeable collector, Loring studied the portraits, finding a bookplate belonging to Viceroy Canning on the back. He offered the collector $1,400 for the works, the cost of a truckload of antique bricks the collector needed.

Loring immediately called Iolani Palace. "I think the portraits want to come home and I’ll get them to Hawaii as quickly as possible," he told the startled staff. Loring donated them to the palace.

But how did portraits of Hawaiian royalty come to be in an Irish farmhouse?

No one can be sure.

It is known that, while in England, Lord Canning officially played host to the king and queen. Canning commissioned the court painter, Hayter, to paint a portrait of the Hawaiian royal couple.

These were inherited by Lord Canning’s son, the Viceroy of India. After the Viceroy died in India, his effects languished for a while before being returned to the ancestral home in Ireland. Somehow, these particular pieces found their way into the hands of Irish gypsies, who sold them to the collector.

But now, at last, they’re at home in the palace where people will soon be able to see them.

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