Esther Bruton (American, 1896–1992)
The Three Graces, mid-1930s
Collection Michael and Linda Horikawa
When the doors opened to the exhibition Art Deco Hawai‘i on July 3, it was the culmination of three years of hard work and research by curator Theresa Papanikolas. Through the artwork in Art Deco Hawai‘i, we see how artists and commercial illustrators presented their romanticized interpretation of the islands.
Among the works of the gallery is The Three Graces, by San Francisco–based Esther Bruton. Painted on a folding screen, it depicts three Hawaiian women bathing in a lagoon, recalling the sirens of Greek mythology, even as Bruton herself was perpetuating a mythology of the Hawaiian islands.
Of the painting Curator of American an European Art writes: “Images of Hawaiian women proliferated not only in the fine arts, but also in commercial illustration, decorative arts, and advertising, all of which articulated the allure of the islands in gendered, and specifically female terms. This folding screen, for example, is ornamented with a stylish configuration of three slender, flowing-haired beauties who, captivating and available for the (presumably male) spectator’s consumption, cavort in a secluded pool nestled among shimmering tree ferns.”
Revealing how popular Bruton’s work was at the time, the exhibition includes a 1936 Hawaiian Pineapple Company ad with another version The Three Graces in the background.