Charles William Bartlett was one of the first artists to work with the publisher Watanabe Shozaburo. Bartlett designed a total of 38 woodblock prints for Watanabe, beginning in 1916 and lasting through 1925. Twenty-two of these prints were produced within the first year, many with the date 1916 carved into the key block. The first series of prints consisted of six Indian scenes plus a cover print of the Taj Mahal, and was followed by a series of six Japanese scenes. Many of Bartlett's prints and etchings were scenes from his travels through Southeast Asia, China, and later Hawaii.
Bartlett was born and raised in England. As a young man, he worked for several years in a large metallurgical company, before deciding to pursue an artistical career. At the age of twenty-three, he began studying art at the Royal Academy in London, and after three years proceeded to the Academie Julien in Paris. In 1889, he returned to England and married, but shortly afterwards his wife and infant son died in childbirth.
As a result, Bartlett returned to Europe and spent a year travelling with his friend and fellow artist, Frank Brangwyn. His subject matter mainly consisted of peasant women and children, almost certainly in reaction to the death of his wife and child. Later he depicted landscapes and peasant life. Although skilled in both watercolor and oil painting, Bartlett was especially recognized for his watercolors, and it was his favorite medium. He was one of the first 25 members elected to the prestigious group, Societe Peinture a l'Eau, in Paris.
In the following years, Bartlett returned to England and remarried (1898) and exhibited several oil paintings at prestigious galleries, including the Royal Academy and the Salon des Beaux Arts. He became interested in printmaking and created many etchings.
In 1913, he and his wife departed for India for the purpose of sketching and painting the landscapes and the people. They planned to stay in Asia for several years and eventually travel around the world. Bartlett loved the vivid colors of India, and they spent a year and a half travelling through the country. Afterwards they visited Ceylon, Indonesia, and China briefly on their way to Japan, arriving in Tokyo in late 1915.
While they were living in Tokyo, Bartlett met the Austrian artist Fritz Capelari who arranged an introduction with the publisher Watanabe Shozaburo. Watanabe was very interested in translating Bartlett's watercolors into woodblock prints, and the two men arranged a collaboration. All of Bartlett's woodblock designs were carved and printed in the Watanabe print shop, under Watanabe's watchful supervision. The resulting prints with their simple designs and flat areas of rich color were both modern and traditional. Miono Matsubara, for example, brings to mind the work of Hiroshige, especially the flat silhouette of Fuji and the stylised clouds.
Bartlett and his wife Catherine left Japan for Hawaii in 1917, intending to stay a short while and then return to their native England. But the Bartletts soon fell in love with the lush scenery and the people, and they decided to settle in Honolulu. Charles stayed in close contact with Watanabe and designed sixteen other woodblock prints, including three Hawaiian subjects. He and his wife continued to travel frequently. They attended several commercial print exhibitions in the mainland United States and visited Java in 1922.
During the 1920's and 1930's, Bartlett and his wife became active and prosperous members of the Hawaiian art community. His woodblock prints were very popular and sold from $15 to $30 per print, in a time where $15 was equivalent to a week's salary. Bartlett was also commissioned to paint portraits for wealthy Hawaiian families. Unfortunately, most of the blocks used to make Bartlett's woodblock prints were destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. However, Bartlett's correspondence with Watanabe indicates that several blocks were either repaired or recarved. Watanabe reprinted a few of Bartlett's designs in 1925, and perhaps continued throughout the 1920's.
In 1928, Bartlett helped to found the Honolulu Printmakers group along with local artists A.S. Macleod, John Kelly, and Huc Luquiens. Still active today, this group aims to promote and spread the appreciation of prints. Since 1929 the Honolulu Printmakers have held an annual show at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. They also offer a gift print in conjunction with this show - a limited edition print by an outstanding member. In 1933, Bartlett was chosen to create the very first gift print, a color etching called 'Java'. This print depicts a Indonesian peasant family returning home after a day's work, against a background of rice paddies and palm trees. In 1939, the Honolulu Academy held a major exhibition of Bartlett's work with 63 paintings and prints. Bartlett died the following year at the age of eighty. After Bartlett's death in 1940, the remaining blocks for his prints were scored to prevent reprinting.