Born Joseph Dwight Strong, Jr. in Bridgeport, Connecticut to a minister’s family, the artist is one of the earliest sources of extremely rare views of Hawaii and Pacific Island paradises encountered as Western Civilization spread its influence over the world. He moved with his family to Honolulu as a child, studied in California for an extended period, and returned to Hawaii in concert with working on commissions for the San Francisco and Hawaii sugar and shipping empire of the John D. Spreckles Company.
Professionally, Strong’s path began under Virgil Williams at the California School of Design in Oakland, where he was immersed in the Munich School of painting theory, in contrast to many contemporaries pursuing the latest techniques from the Parisian schools. He won such local acclaim that the mayor of Oakland and the public sponsored him to travel to Munich in 1875-77, where he studied under Carl Piloty and others. In time he exhibited at the Royal Academy and the National Academy of Design. He returned to California in 1877 and opened a studio in San Francisco, specializing in portraits. He developed an association with Jules Tavernier in Monterey, married Isobel Osbourne, and soon was living and working in Hawaii.
Originals by Strong are extremely rare, seldom available, and escalating in value. Very few Hawaiian scenes have ever been discovered or preserved. Spreckels, partially seeking to grow his Oceanic Shipping Line between San Francisco and Hawaii, commissioned the artist to paint landscapes of the beauty of Hawaii. Alongside of his wife’s promotions, soon Strong was a favorite with the local Hawaiian authorities as well, painting three works for King Kalakaua and others. These works and a few others are currently held and prized in the collections of the Honolulu Academy of the Arts, the Bishop Museum in Honolulu and the Oakland Museum of California.
Through their individual marriages, Strong was the son-in-law and associate of author/explorer Robert Louis Stevenson, who visited often in California and invited Strong and family to live with them on their estate in Samoa from 1887-1895, with Strong appointed the official artist by the Hawaiian Embassy.