The San Francisco Art Association

by Betty Hoag McGlynn



The following essay was written in 1986 by Betty Hoag McGlynn, art historian. It is an essay written for, and included in, the book titled Plein Air Painters of California, The North, edited by Ruth Lilly Westphal and published by Westphal Publishing, Irvine, California, ISBN 0-9610520-1-5


San Francisco's early artists had problems finding ways to make the public aware of their work. A solution was not found until the San Francisco Art Association was organized in 1871. Some sporadic exposure of paintings had been offered as early as 1851 when local artists were invited to show at the Mechanics Institute Fair. The artists made a valiant effort to help themselves when they formed a California Art Union in 1865; it lasted only two years. A similar San Francisco Artists' Union of 1868 lasted but a year. Finally, in March of 1871, a large number of concerned citizens and artists met at the library of the Mechanics Institute and formally organized the San Francisco Art Association. Its object was "the promotion and cultivation of the Fine Arts in the community." A large sector of the membership was (and continued to be) non-painters but avid art patrons. A First Annual Exhibit of work by members was held in 1872.

In February of 1874 a dream was realized when the San Francisco School of Design opened in the association's rented rooms at 313 Pine Street. Most of the forty students were young women. Two years later the academy moved to 430 Pine where it was established unromantically above a fish market and poultry shop, adjoining rooms of the young Bohemian Club. The French government sent the new school a gift of fifty-five plaster copies of sculptures in the Louvre in gratitude for San Francisco's financial help during the Franco-Prussian War. When the crates were unpacked, one statue was found to be minus an arm, so the association sued the delivery company, Wells Fargo, and collected damages. The gorgeous amputee was the Venus de Milo.

The art association received a second gift in 1893; the city and state were given the many-turreted Hopkins mansion atop Nob Hill. The association at once affiliated with the University of California and changed the name of the school to the California School of Design. Its museum functions continued under the commemorative title of the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art. The 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed the structure. Almost before the embers cooled the San Francisco Art Association began building new headquarters over the debris. Now it rechristened the school the San Francisco Institute of Art.

In 1916 the association merged with the San Francisco Society of Artists (a group of avant-garde painters). That same year the association assumed directorship of the Museum of Modern Art, the city's first museum dedicated solely to the exhibition of fine art. It was located in the Palace of Fine Arts, that magnificent relic of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The name of the association's historic academy again was changed in 1917, to the California School of Fine Arts. In 1926 the students left Nob Hill and moved into quarters which the San Francisco Art Association had just built at 800 Chestnut Street. A merger took place in 1961, the association and school combining as the San Francisco Art Institute, by which name it is still known


About the Author

Betty Hoag McGlynn is the daughter of Montana artist Elizabeth Lochrie and daughter-in-law of Thomas McGlynn. At the time of writing of this essay, Ruth Westphal described Betty Hoag McGlynn as an "Art historian, writer and contributor to numerous historical publications."


Editor's note:

Essay courtesy of Westpahl Publishing, Irvine, California

For biographical information on artists referenced in this essay please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/28/11

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