The Hilbert Museum of California Art is a museum in Orange, California, located within Chapman University. The museum’s collection includes over 1,000 paintings, including watercolors and oil paintings by artists associated with the California Scene Painting movement.
The Hilbert Museum of California Art, which opened in 2016, was made possible by the generosity of founders Mark and Janet Hilbert. The Hilbert Collection, which includes oils, watercolors, and drawings of urban and industrial scenes, coastal views, farms, ranches, and everyday landscapes, is a significant repository of images by California artists from the twentieth century, celebrating the Golden State’s unique artistic and cultural development.
Chapman University announced in November 2014 that it had received a large gift of California art valued at more than $7 million from the Hilberts, as well as $3 million from the couple toward the establishment of a museum on campus to permanently showcase the collection to the public.
A portion of the Hilbert collection of over 1,000 paintings, mostly in watercolor and oil, created between the 1930s and 1970s by luminaries of the California Scene movement such as Millard Sheets, Emil Kosa Jr., Mary Blair, Phil Dike, Milford Zornes, and Rex Brandt, will be displayed in the Museum’s permanent collection. Additionally, rotating temporary exhibits will be planned.
California Scene Paintings showcase the Golden State’s regional spirit by depicting vast landscapes and expressive genre scenes depicting storylines of people’s daily lives. The genre, which emerged in the early 1900s, experienced a golden age in the 1930s, when it documented the catalysts of cultural change of the time: the Great Depression’s aftermath, the state’s industrial development in the years leading up to World War II, and the growth of Hollywood, which attracted many outstanding artists to work in the fields of motion pictures and animation.
California Scene painters strove to create representational art based on what they saw and felt as part of a larger national trend known as American Regionalism or the American Scene style. Their movement evolved alongside changes in the American way of life, documenting the growth of the agricultural, railway, automotive, military, entertainment, and tourist industries. Because California has historically been a melting pot of many cultures and peoples, the California Scene movement has included many works created by and showing Latino Americans, African Americans, and Asian Americans, among others, nearly from its inception.
Indeed, the California Scene movement is a visual journey through California history: from a wild, untamed Western landscape of rolling hills and vast empty coastlines to an urban industrial panorama dotted with skyscrapers and New Deal mural projects, and finally to its modern economy based on entertainment, agriculture, international trade, Silicon Valley industries, and tourism. Throughout the twentieth century, California Scene painting has always been about depicting and embracing new advancements in culture and lifestyle. It now confirms an emotional link between the California scenery and its residents by telling the experiences of ordinary people in a changing world.
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