Primarily known as a California painter, George Henry Burgess was from a large family of artists. A long-time resident of San Francisco, he also made periodic visits to the Hawaiian Islands. Born in London in 1831, he studied at the Somerset House School of Design in London, and worked in a lithography shop in the city. The California Gold Rush attracted George’s two brothers, Charles and Edward, and in 1850 he and his older brother, William, joined them there. However, he and William soon turned from mining to running a jewelry store in Sonoma.
Charles and Edward Burgess lived in Honolulu for various periods; Charles working as a photographer and portrait painter, and Edward as an agent selling his siblings’ artwork and running a coffee shop.
George Burgess made three trips to Hawaii, the first and longest being in 1855, and he remained in the islands for over a year. In 1856, he produced a set of Honolulu views that were then offered for sale in 1857. These lithographic scenes show Honolulu and its harbor, Queen Street, Nuuanu Valley, Diamond Head, and domestic scenes in the area of Ewa. His scenes, which were published at Britton and Rey, San Francisco, are animated with the presence of human activity. He also painted portraits of King Kamehameha IV and his queen, Emma, which are regarded as among the artist’s best works.
During his second trip to Hawaii in 1866, he created watercolors, drawings, and portraits, before returning to San Francisco in 1867. He visited the islands a third time in 1871, after the death of his brother Edward.
In 1871, he became a co-founder of the San Francisco Art Association. In 1872, George Burgess traveled to London, where he married Emma, a daughter of the artist Alfred Clint.
Returning to San Francisco, he painted portraits, gave art lessons, worked for the lithography firm of Britton & Rey, and executed a number of large history pieces. His largest historical scene was a lithographic recreation, completed in 1894, of his view of San Francisco as it appeared in the fall of 1848.
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
David W. Forbes, Encounters in Paradise
Don Severson, Finding Paradise