Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A national treasure for sale

LEADING AUTHORITY ON ALL THINGS CAZABON: Geoffrey MacLean with the Album of Trinidad. –Photo: Martin Moutett

ONE OF CAZABONíS PAINTINGS: ďCaledonia and Craig IslandsĒ from Cazabonís Album of Trinidad.

GIFT FOR POPE: Then-president Sir Ellis Clarke presented Pope John Paul II with Cazabonís Views of Trinidad during the Popeís visit in 1985.

US PRESIDENT TAKES A LOOK: US President Franklin D Roosevelt was presented with a copy of Cazabonís Views of Trinidad during a visit in 1936.

ONE OF CAZABONíS PAINTINGS: Corbeaux Town Port of Spain from Cazabonís Album of Trinidad

ONE OF CAZABONíS PAINTINGS: The Road to the Pitch Lake from Cazabonís Album of Trinidad

ONE OF CAZABONíS PAINTINGS: Forest Scenery Near Tamana from Cazabonís Album of Trinidad

Every story has to start somewhere. So we will begin in 1945 Debe, where Sajeevan Mathura was born to a once indentured Indian immigrant Ramkissoon and wife Phulbasiya who, from the profits of rice farming and money lending, lifted the family out of the South Oropouche lagoon.

When Mathura was 16 years old, the Mathura family moved to San Fernando, where nine siblings would use the opportunity of education to climb even higher, four of them becoming doctors and Sajeevan earning a scholarship while at Naparima College, that would take him to Scotland.

Sajeevan is best remembered in San Fernando as the man whose firm rebuilt Naparima Bowl in 1988 after it was destroyed by fire years before.

But it is his time in Scotland, where Mathura studied for a mechanical engineering degree, that is of interest here.

It is now family lore that Mathura befriended a troubled fellow student and encouraged him to complete his degree. And in an act of gratitude, that friend's father, William Syme, gave Mathura an album containing images of early Trinidad, as he was leaving Scotland in 1968.

Syme said the album first belonged to his grandfather, a sailor who had acquired it in Trinidad many years before.

Back home, Mathura used that album for years to line the bottom of a box that held his cricket boots. Until, some years later, he read an article about Trinidad's most famous artist Michel Jean-Cazabon, and told his wife Judy (then a teacher at St Joseph's Convent, San Fernando) that he suspected he had something of Cazabon.

Ten years ago, Mathura, now a resident in the United States, passed the album to daughter Karyn Glubis, who would soon discover that what she now owned was a remarkable piece of Trinidad's history.

It turns out the Mathuras had a copy of Album of Trinidad, published by Cazabon in 1857, and containing 18 lithographs depicting local landscape in vivid detail.

Glubis, who lives in Florida, would research the album and, with the assistance of her now deceased mother, authored a book titled Trinidad Transending Time, which features the lithographs, juxtaposed with photographs of present-day photographs of the spots Cazabon would have painted more than 150 years ago.

Glubis, who also authored a children's book (The Treasure Hunt, about the Magnificent Seven) has decided to part with the album. It has been put up for auction, with the instruction that the buyer not take it apart to display the individual prints. ?It belongs in Trinidad and Tobago. It is a national treasure,? said Glubis. There are only two known publications of the Album of Trinidad still known to exist. So if you've got about $200,000 to spend, this could be yours.


Geoffrey MacLean, curator/conservationist/writer, is a board member of the National Trust and founding member of the Citizens for Conservation. He also happens to be the leading authority on all things Cazabon. He knows the importance of what Sajeevan Mathura, through a series of random events, came to own.

The following information has been shared by MacLean:

The year 2013 marked the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Michel Jean Cazabon, Trinidad's great nineteenth century artist, who was born on the 20th September 1813 on Corinth Estate near San Fernando, Trinidad's second port.

The Cazabon name originates in Basque country, which spans north-eastern Spain and south-western France. Bordeaux in France, the nearest large port to the region, was the point of departure for many of the French immigrants to the West Indies and North America. It is thought that the first Cazabons in the West Indies went to the French island of Martinique. Records indicate that the family had settled there as early as the 1730s.

The artist's mother, Rose Debonne, married Francois Cazabon in Trinidad about 1797, bringing into the marriage the 270-acre Corinth Estate in North Naparima. Their families were part of the free coloured/free black community from St Pierre in Martinique, who settled in the Naparimas under the Spanish government's Cedula of Population. The Decree was designed to encourage immigration into an undeveloped Trinidad at the end of the eighteenth Century.

The new immigrants soon established a thriving sugar industry. San Fernando, the port from which their produce was shipped, developed rapidly under the leadership of Jean Baptiste Jaillet, an astute coloured planter who gained wealth and power through his land dealings. He used his influence to encourage other coloured immigrants to settle in the surrounding areas of the Naparimas. The community's respect for Jaillet is demonstrated by San Fernando Hill being, at the time, known colloquially as Morne Jaillet. From the community there emerged an ambitious and articulate group, from which came many of the leading professional and intellectual personalities of nineteenth century Trinidad.

Trinidad became British in 1797 when the Spanish Governor, Don Jose Maria Chacon, surrendered to the British naval force under Sir Ralph Abercromby.

Under the new British administration, the Naparimas remained socially independent and were treated with a great deal of suspicion and prejudice by the British governors, in particular Governor Sir Ralph Woodford. After a meeting between Lord Bathhurst and Jean Baptiste Philippe in 1829, when he presented his treatise, A Free Mulatto, the coloured community achieved equal rights.

When he was 13, Cazabon was sent to England to attend St Edmund's College in Ware. It is interesting that, despite their French background, his parents preferred to send him to an English school, perhaps to prepare him for life in an English colony. Later he went to Paris to study art and where he was a student of the marine painter, Jean-Antoine Theodore Gudin (1802-1880), the portraitist Michel-Martin Drolling (1789-1851), Antoine Leon Morel-Fatio (1810-1871) and, it is believed, Paul Delaroche (1797-1856).

It is likely that Cazabon learnt his printing techniques from Morel-Fatio. Cazabon exhibited at the Salon du Louvre in 1839 and every year from 1843 to 1847. He travelled extensively in France and painted in Italy. His school was that of the French Landscape, his work showing a close affinity to that of another pupil of Delaroche, Charles-Francois Daubigny (1817-1878).

The lithographs

Cazabon returned to Trinidad in 1848 and in 1851 produced a series of 18 lithographs, Views of Trinidad. In 1857 he published a second series, Album of Trinidad, and in 1860 contributed to two other series, Views of Demerara and Album Martiniquaise. Cazabon's oeuvre is extensive; his work shows a wide knowledge of media oils, watercolours, gouache, gesso, etc. Although he was primarily a watercolourist and landscape artist, both his formal and informal portraits are highly valued, and his illustrations for the newspapers of the day, of important historic significance. His sketches for the Illustrated London News give us an insight into life in Trinidad, showing the riots of 1845, the trial of the rioters, the great fire of Port of Spain of 1850 and, on a more social side, ?Ball on board Her Majesty's Ship Wellesley? in Port of Spain.

It is thought that the lithographs of Trinidad were a tribute to Governor Lord Harris with whom Cazabon was very close. Many of the scenes show projects completed by Harris during his period as governor from 1845 to 1854. Original lithographs are much sought after and have become a rare commodity for collectors.

In 1860, Cazabon moved to Martinique, where he lived and worked in Saint Pierre, but his success was limited and he returned to Trinidad about 1870. He taught art privately and at both Queen's Royal College and St Mary's College and continued to paint from his studio on Edward Street, Port of Spain, for a diminishing clientelle. He died in virtual poverty on November 20, 1888. He was buried in the Lapeyrouse Cemetery. In 2010 his grave was restored by the conservation group, Citizens for Conservation.

In Trinidad, Cazabon's most important patron was Lord Harris, the English governor from 1848 to 1854. The Harris Collection of 44 paintings, now displayed at the family home at Belmont in Kent, England, is perhaps the most important collection of nineteenth century visual references of Trinidad. Several other less extensive, but important collections were commissioned by William Burnley, the Scottish-American planter, John Lamont and the Earl of Dundonald, among them.

Cazabon married Louise Rosalie Trolard (1821-1885) in Paris and had three children, two of whom were born in Paris: Rose Alexandrine, born in 1844, and Louis Michel, born in 1845. Their last child, a daughter, Jeanne Anna Camille, was born in Trinidad in 1852. Jeanne Anna Camille married Edmund Basilon. Their children, Andrea, Rita, Henry or ?Harry? and Marie Louise were well known for their contribution to the arts and music. Harry was one of San Fernando's leading masmen.

Their descendants include the Lasalle, Wears and Tanker families, many of whom are still involved in the arts, including musicians, the late Andre Tanker and Andre Lasalle, artist Peter Shim and photographer David Wears.

Today Cazabon's paintings are highly prized in Trinidad and Tobago and appear regularly at auction house sales in the United Kingdom. If you are interested in purchasing the album, you can contact Geoffrey MacLean at 352-0204.