The Irvine Museum

Irvine, CA



Along El Camino Real: The California Missions in Art

September 23 - January 20, 2001


Although the missions in Baja California are older, the first mission in what is now the State of California was founded in San Diego in 1769. For the next fifty years, 21 missions were founded throughout California, stretching as far north as Sonoma. They were all connected by El Camino Real, the Royal Road or the King's Highway, which today approximates Highway 101. (left: Benjamin C. Brown (1865-1942), The Mission [San Luis Rey])

In 1821, Mexico declared its independence from Spain and claimed California as a province. The missions were greatly restricted during the Mexican Period and their vast land holdings were taken away. By 1850, when California became the 31st State of the Union, most missions were abandoned and in ruins. It wasn't until the 1890s, when artists began to portray the missions as relics of California's romantic past, that a serious effort was made to preserve and restore them.

The earliest views of the California missions in our exhibition are selections from the set of etchings by Henry Chapman Ford (1828-1894), published in 1883. The oldest painting on display is the front of the Mission San Juan Capistrano, painted by Alexander Harmer (1856-1925) in 1886. What is now one of the most beautiful gardens in California is shown as a dry, dusty yard, with just a few geraniums against the pillars of the arcade.

In keeping with the specialty of our museum, the majority of the works in the show are by California's noted Impressionist painters who were active from about 1890 to the mid-1930s.

Paintings by Franz A. Bischoff (1864-1929), Maurice Braun (1877-1941), Benjamin C. Brown (1865-1942), Alson Skinner Clark (1876-1949), Joseph Kleitsch (1881 -1931), Arthur Rider (1886-1976), Guy Rose (1867-1925), and William Wendt (1865-1946) show many of California's 21 missions, although most paintings show the Mission San Juan Capistrano, called "The Jewel of the Missions."

To complement the exhibition, the museum bookstore offers Romance of the Bells, a book published in 1995, with readable and informative articles by noted writers in the field of California history, including Gerald J. Miller, Administrator of the Mission San Juan Capistrano, Pamela Hallan-Gibson, an historian whose work appears in numerous books and video documentaries on Orange County history, the late Dr. Norman Neuerburg, eminent authority on the art produced in the missions and historical consultant for several of the mission restoration projects, and Jean Stern, art historian and Executive Director of The Irvine Museum. The book is richly illustrated throughout by approximately 90 color plates and 40 black and white illustrations.


Resource Library editor's note:

This article was originally published in 2000.

Rev. 8/27/09

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Irvine Museum in Resource Library.

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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.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 3/23/11

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