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Plant Portraits: The California Legacy of A. R. Valentien

April 9 - December 4, 2005



(above: Albert R. Valentien, Ocotillo)


Pottery decorator and designer Albert R. Valentien and his wife made a fateful visit to San Diego in 1903. Dazzled by the state's natural beauty, they decided to move to California, arriving in 1908. That year Valentien was commissioned to paint a complete series of California wildflowers by San Diego philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps. For the next 10 years the project became his life's passion. (right: Albert R. Valentien, California Poppy)

The Oakland Museum of California will showcase 80 of Valentien's exquisite watercolor/ gouache paintings in Plant Portraits: The California Legacy of A. R. Valentien, April 9 - December 4, 2005.

Despite his lack of botanical training, Valentien created more than 1000 remarkably accurate and detailed illustrations, depicting 1500 species of wildflowers. He traveled throughout California, visiting deserts, salt marshes, canyons, chaparral, and mountain meadows, painting the grasses, ferns, and trees as well as the wildflowers. California at this time offered Valentien an unspoiled wealth of diverse plants to chronicle.

Albert Robert Valentien (1862-1925) was born and educated in Cincinnati, Ohio. He studied painting at the University of Cincinnati School of Design under the guidance of Thomas G. Noble and Frank Duveneck. In 1881 Valentien was hired as the first salaried decorator at the Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati, where he spent 24 years as chief decorator and artistic director. His work is in the collections of London's Victoria and Albert Museum, the Luxembourg in Paris, and the Royal Industrial Art Museum in Berlin.

Valentien's distinctive glazes and designs reflected his interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement, a decorative style that extolled the virtues and forms of nature and the independence of the artist/craftsman. His attraction to the California landscape and flora was a natural extension of his Rookwood years.

Valentien met his wife, Anna Marie Bookprinter, a sculptor and painter, at Rookwood. They married in 1887, and traveled to Europe for further training and to prepare the Rookwood Pottery exhibit for the 1900 Paris Exposition. While recuperating in Germany from an illness during the trip, Valentien began to paint the flowers of the region. This proved a turning point in his career.

Plant Portraits was organized by the San Diego Natural History Museum[1], where Valentien's collection came after Ms. Scripps' death. Valentien had assumed that his work would be published at its completion, and was gravely disappointed when his patron decided that publication would be too costly. The artist would be pleased with Plant Portraits: The California Legacy of A. R. Valentien, a volume of essays and 325 color illustrations, published by The Irvine Museum and The San Diego Natural History Museum in 2003.

Plant Portraits is presented by the museum's Natural Sciences Department, which also presents the annual California Wildflower Show (April 16-17, 2005) and the popular Fungus Fair, in December.


1. The San Diego Natural History Museum's web site has an extensive section on the exhibition and the artist with numerous examples of the artist's works plus another section on the Valentin Project. and an article Anna and Albert Valentien: The Arts and Crafts Movement in San Diego by Bruce Kamerling

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