The Irvine Museum

Irvine, CA




California, This Golden Land of Promise: The History of California Through Art

November 10, 2001 - February 16, 2002


California, This Golden Land of Promise is a major exhibition organized by The Irvine Museum that tells the fascinating history of California through a selection of important and rare paintings. Starting with the earliest entry of human beings in the Western Hemisphere, some 20,000 years ago, to the Gold Rush of 1849, the story of California is shown in historical paintings, engravings and photographs of artifacts.

The long and unfamiliar history of Native Americans is told by photographs of artifacts, some dating back 14,000 years or more. With the coming of European colonizers and visitors to California, starting in the late 1700s, drawings and paintings of California Indians begin to appear, showing us a remarkable view of how they looked and lived.

The story of Gaspár de Portolá and Father Junipero Serra and the founding of the missions is recounted with paintings of the first explorations of our state and the founding of 21 missions along El Camino Real. In 1821, Mexico gained its independence from Spain and California, along with Texas and the Southwest, became a Mexican province. Artists of the 1840-1850 period recorded the romantic California of the Rancho period, or the Golden Age, focusing on the vaqueros and their dashing lifestyle. At the same time, foreigners began to trade with the ranchos and missions. This is when Americans got their first look at this beautiful and rich region. (left: William Hahn (1829-1887), Mexican Cattle Drivers in Southern California, Courtesy of Dr. and Mrs. Edward H. Boseker)

In 1846, war broke out between the United States and Mexico and American soldiers invaded and conquered California. This important and little-known historical period is illustrated with rare images by a U.S. Navy gunner who came to fight in California but ended up painting watercolors of all the major battles of the American Conquest. The Gold Rush brought thousands of Americans and within a year, California became the 31st state of the Union in 1850.

After statehood came the era of the American ranches and the growth of large agricultural empires, such as the Irvine Ranch, which at its height included over 115,000 acres of prime Orange County land. This period is illustrated by landscape paintings of the Plein-Air style, showing the region before the growth and development of today.

California, This Golden Land of Promise is accompanied by a large and lavishly illustrated book, written by Joan Irvine Smith and Jean Stern. With over 380 pages, 400 color plates and 100 black-and-white photos, this is the definitive introduction to the history of California, written in a direct and highly readable style.


Resource Library editor's note:

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

Click on images bordered in red to enlarge them.

This article was originally published in 2001.

Rev. 8/27/09

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