Artful Players: Artistic Life in Early San Francisco

by Birgitta Hjalmarson, with a forward by William H. Gerdts

288 pages, 6 x 9 inches, 34 black and white photographs, 46 color photographs, ISBN 1-890449-01-6


With a handful of wealthy Gold Rush barons as indulgent patrons, an active community of artists appeared in San Francisco almost overnight. A subculture of artistic brilliance and social experimentation was the result--in essence, a decades-long revelry which finally ended with the 1906 earthquake.

Witness Jules Tavernier, hungry and in debt, accepting a stuffed peacock and two old dueling pistols in payment for a Yosemite landscape; Mark Twain as reluctant art critic; Oscar Wilde outdrinking his hosts at the Bohemian Club, declaring he had never before seen "so many well-dressed, well-fed business-like looking Bohemians"; California beauties matching measurements with the real Venus de Milo (and the discovery that "San Francisco women tend to grow large heads"); and the New York art promoter defending himself against obscenity charges for his displays of scantily draped, bronze-painted women modeling as famous statues.

Prolific production of some of America's greatest paintings developed into a distinctly California style. Within little more than two decades San Francisco transformed itself into a sophisticated metropolis rivaling those of the East. Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill and William Keith were among the many artists who documented Yosemite Valley and the state's other natural wonders. Grace Hudson's paintings are still considered some of the finest records of Native American culture. Theodore Wores brought the colorful culture of Chinese immigrants to the general public. Birgitta Hjalmarson deftly brings these artists back to life, partly because their story is long overdue, partly because it is such a rollicking good one.


The Author

Birgitta Hjalmarson earned an M.A. in English and Literature from the University of Lund, Sweden, and an M.A. in German from the University of California at Davis. She covered the San Francisco art beat as a contributing editor for New-York based Art & Auction from 1983 to 1989. Her work has also appeared in The Magazine Antiques, Southwest Art, and Antiques West.

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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.

rev. 9/20/10

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