Jules Tavernier (American, born France, 1844–1889). Dance in a Subterranean Roundhouse at Clear Lake, California (detail), 1878. Oil on canvas, 48 x 72 1/4 in. (121.9 x 183.5 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Marguerite and Frank A. Cosgrove Jr. Fund, 2016 (2016.135). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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The exhibition “Jules Tavernier and the Elem Pomo” explores the intercultural exchange between American artist Jules Tavernier (1844–1889), born and trained in France, and the Indigenous Pomo community of Elem at Clear Lake in northern California.

Investigating Tavernier’s life and career, the exhibition is centered on his rediscovered masterwork, “Dance in a Subterranean Roundhouse at Clear Lake, California (1878),” which depicts the “mfom Xe,” or “people dance,” of the Elem Pomo in an underground roundhouse.

The exhibition brings together approximately 60 works by a range of artists—paintings, prints, watercolors, and photographs—to tell the story of Tavernier’s travels through Nebraska, Wyoming, California, and the Hawaiian Islands. These works will be shown alongside a choice selection of historical and contemporary Pomo basketry and regalia to celebrate the cultural sovereignty of the Pomo peoples and highlight their continued cultural presence.

“Dance in a Subterranean Roundhouse at Clear Lake, California” was commissioned by San Francisco’s leading banker, Tiburcio Parrott, as a gift for his Parisian business partner, Baron Edmond de Rothschild. Tavernier’s work celebrates the rich vitality of Elem Pomo culture, while also exposing the threat posed by White settlers, including Parrot, who was then operating a toxic mercury mine on the community’s homelands. Designated as a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1990, the mine continues to negatively impact the lives of the sovereign people of the present-day Elem Indian Colony.

The rediscovery of Tavernier’s painting in recent times has inspired this new analysis of the artist’s career. Born and trained in France, Tavernier took life-drawing classes and exhibited his paintings at the Paris Salon in the 1860s. He left London and arrived in New York in August 1871, initially showcasing his skills as an illustrator with scenes of daily life and the American wilderness. Following the opening of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, the American public clamored for images of the West. Tavernier’s talent was recognized by “Harper’s Weekly,” who hired him to travel across the country. Examples of the resulting watercolor sketches, prints, and large-scale oil paintings are featured in the exhibition, including those inspired by his wide-ranging travels through Nebraska, Wyoming, California, and the Hawaiian Islands.

A multiplicity of voices and perspectives are presented throughout the show, including new interpretations of Tavernier’s work in the Great Plains and Hawaii authored by artist, historian, and educator Arthur Amiotte (Oglala Lakota); Dorene Red Cloud (Oglala Lakota), Associate Curator of Native American Art, Eiteljorg Museum; and Healoha Johnston (Native Hawaiian), Curator, Asia Pacific American Women’s Cultural History, Smithsonian Asia Pacific American Center.

When Tavernier arrived in California in 1874, Indigenous Pomo peoples had for decades suffered the catastrophic consequences of White settlement, including genocidal violence, disease, land theft, forced relocation, environmental degradation, and cultural transformation. Yet in the face of devastating colonialism, Pomo communities developed strategies of resistance and endurance that persist today. Their innovation and adaptation are evident in their basketry—the art form for which the Pomo peoples are best known. Selected in close consultation with exhibition collaborator Sherrie Smith-Ferri (Dry Creek Pomo/Bodega Miwok), the baskets featured in the exhibition reveal the breadth of Pomo weaving techniques, forms, and materials, as well as their makers’ intimate knowledge of plants and animals. A selection of contemporary baskets by renowned weaver Clint McKay (Dry Creek Pomo/Wappo/Wintun) highlights the ongoing cultural significance of basket making today.

To learn more about the exhibition, click here.