Oakland Museum of California

Oakland, CA

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A Legacy of Early California Paintings: The Shumate Collection


Paintings from the 19th century art collection of Dr. C. Albert Shumate are featured in the exhibition A Legacy of Early California Paintings: The Shumate Collection, on view at the Oakland Museum of California from May 26 to Aug. 5, 2001. Shumate, a medical doctor by profession whose passion was history, was one of the earliest collectors of California art. The 51 paintings in the exhibition, by more than 40 prominent artists, provide a pictorial record of much of California's history and artistic life in the years between 1816 and 1916. (left: Frank Marryat, Fremont Hotel, San Francisco, CA, c. 1850, watercolor and gouache on paper, 10 x 14 inches)

The Shumate Collection represents a veritable Who's Who of 19th and early 20th century California painters. Few of these paintings have been seen in other exhibitions or publications. The paintings, primarily oils but also watercolor and gouache, are on long-term loan to the museum from the heirs of the Shumate collection, Drs. Thomas and Jane McLaughlin. (left: Herman Hertzog, Yosemite Brush Fires, n.d., oil on board, 15 x 21 inches)

Harvey Jones, senior curator of art at the Oakland Museum of California and curator of the exhibition, said, "We are very fortunate to have the use of this important private collection, which has been seen by very few people. It will augment and complement our own historical survey in the Gallery of California Art."

The earliest paintings in the collection were produced by artists who accompanied the exploratory expeditions that visited the Pacific Coast during the early 19th century. The earliest work in the exhibition, Habitants de la Callfornie, 1816, is a watercolor depicting three native Californians as illustrated by Louis Choris for the Russian-sponsored Kotzebue expedition. (left: Louis Choris, Habitants de la Callfornie, 1816, watercolor, pen on paper)

The establishment of the European tradition of easel painting in California began in the 1850s during the Gold Rush era, in San Francisco, Sacramento and around various mining sites in northern California. In addition to documenting the Gold Rush, artists painted the California wilderness and images of native Californians, early railroading, marine subjects and such popular San Francisco attractions as Fort Point, Cliff House and Chinatown. The exhibition includes Gold Rush paintings by Thomas A. Ayres, Frank Marryat, Henry Walton and Frederic A. Butman, among others. The most celebrated artist of the Gold Rush, Charles Christian Nahl, is represented by William H. Walton's copy of his long-lost painting, A Miner Prospecting. (right: Charles Rollo Peters, Italian Fisherman's Wharf, 1885, oil on canvas, 22.5 x 36.5 inches)

"Romantic realism," the principal stylistic movement among California landscape painters of the second half of the 19th century, is represented by such artists as Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, William Keith, Juan Buckingham Wandesforde, Ransome Gillet Holdredge , William Lewis Marple, Carl von Perbandt and Virgil Macey Williams. These California painters transformed the precisely detailed, idealized landscapes of the Hudson River school into a looser, more realistic style. (left: Albert Bierstadt, Mt. Shasta, California, n.d., oil on canvas, 14 x 18.25 inches)

During the last decade of the 19th century, California landscape painting moved toward an evocation of mood or sentiment in the depiction of typical, yet often unidentified sites. Artists of this era represented in the exhibition include William Keith, Jules Tavernier, Edward Rufus Hill, Grace Carpenter Hudson, Charles Rollo Peters and William (Will) Sparks.

The exhibition also includes the work of two prominent Bay Area watercolorists who were influenced by European Impressionism: Lorenzo Palmer Latimer and Percy Gray.

The most recent image, Maynard Dixon's Man With the Hoe, dated 1916, refers to Edwin Markham's popular 1899 poem of the same name. The poem, written in Oakland when Markham was a teacher there, was itself inspired by a famous work by the French painter Millet. (left: Maynard Dixon, The Man With the Hoe, 1916, ink wash and gouache on paper, 19 x 15 inches)

The greater portion of California painting was based in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 19th century as a result of the establishment of numerous artist's studios and the formation of the San Francisco Art Association. By the 1880s San Francisco enjoyed a reputation as the premier American art center west of the eastern seaboard. Some of California's most respected painters from the 1890s and later were trained at the San Francisco Art Association's School of Design, now the San Francisco Art Institute. These painters -- as well as the school's directors Norton Bush and Virgil Macey Williams and instructors Juan B. Wandesforde and Thomas Hill -- are represented in the exhibition.

Few early works survive from Southern California, probably because few artists settled there until after 1885, when the Santa Fe Railway opened an all-weather route via the Southwest between Chicago and Los Angeles.

Dr. C. Albert Shumate (1904-1998) has been called the dean of San Francisco historians. He was a native of San Francisco who devoted himself to researching, writing, and collecting books and art about the history of California. He began collecting California art in the 1930s, one of the first people to do so. In the 1960s he donated several paintings to the Oakland Museum, when the museum was just getting started. A prolific writer, he published 13. books on colorful figures and events in California history as well as numerous shorter works. (left: Virgil Williams, Settler's Cabin, 1884, oil on board, 10.5 x 14.5 inches)

He served as a trustee and/or president of numerous California historical organizations, including the California Historical Society, Conference of California Historical Societies, San Francisco Westerners Corral, California Pioneer Society, Fort Point and Presidio Museum Association, San Francisco Hook & Ladder Society, San Francisco chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, California Genealogical Association, California Heritage Council, San Francisco Beautiful, E Clampus Vitus and San Francisco Westerners. He also served as President of the San Francisco Dermatological Society, Vice President of the San Francisco Art Commission and chair of several library organizations. (left: Alexander Edouart, Indian Encampment, n.d., oil on canvas, 15 x 24 inches)

Our readers may also enjoy stories on the Laguna Art Colony, the San Francisco Art Association, lists of individual Early Southern California plein air painters, the Early Northern California plein air painters and the Society of Six. Study over 100 top-ranked California artists courtesy of AskArt.com. Enjoy pictures of Hudson River School paintings via the Desmond-Fish Library, and details including biographies, auction records, museum holdings, top dealers, book and magazine references on over 70 Hudson River School artists courtesy of AskArt.com.

Read more in Resource Library Magazine about the Oakland Museum of California

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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

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