The following essay is reprinted with permission of the Oakland Museum of California and the author. Oakland Museum of California is presenting the exhibition Scene in Oakland, 1852-2002: Artworks Celebrating the City's 150th Anniversary, which will be on view March 9 through August 25, 2002. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, please contact the Oakland Museum of California directly through either the following phone number or web address:



 

Scene in Oakland, 1852-2002: Artworks Celebrating the City's 150th Anniversary

by Harvey L. Jones, Exhibition Curator

 

During Oakland's first 150 years, numerous California artists found inspiration in the wide variety of pictorial subject matter they could draw from in the city.  The exhibition Scene in Oakland, 1852-2002, part of this museum's celebration of Oakland's sesquicentennial, affords an opportunity to exhibit 66 views of the city by 48 artists, drawn largely from the Oakland Museum of California?s own collections.

Oakland in its early decades was filled with high rolling hills and steep canyons, tall redwoods, fragrant bays and native oaks along descending creeks that met sloping meadows and grassy marshlands near the estuary and San Francisco Bay.  These soon gave way to urban development with the changes to the landscape that "progress" inevitably brings.  Evidence of the region's first inhabitants, the Ohlone Indians who occupied the shores of the Bay Area for 3500 years before the arrival of the first white men, was largely gone by the time the city was incorporated in 1852.

The original town of Oakland occupied the area west of the slough along San Antonio Creek, later dammed forming Lake Merritt.  The regions east of the slough, including the adjacent towns of Brooklyn, Clinton, San Antonio and Fruitvale were later annexed to Oakland, and then the city eventually expanded to Trestle Glen and Montclair in the Oakland hills.  Some locations of early scenes in the exhibition are identified by their original town names.

The name "Oakland," derived from "Encinal," meaning oak grove, reflects the city's origin in Spanish California, located on part of the Peralta land grant.  This origin is beautifully depicted in Ferdinand Richardt's painting of Oaks at Madison and Eighth Streets.

The museum's earliest view of Oakland is a pencil and watercolor sketch of lower Broadway in May 1854, done by an unknown artist.  The scene is reminiscent of a movie set for a frontier town; the broad dusty road between two rows of hastily constructed wooden storefront buildings located in a grove of native oaks.

The city's history, as a world seaport, a transcontinental railroad terminus, a residential community, an industrial center, as well as an important educational and cultural district, is well documented in images produced by many of California's prominent painters and photographers.  Oakland and the East Bay were either the home or the host to numerous artists throughout the city's history, including such well-known 19th-century artists as Albert Bierstadt, William Keith, Eadweard Muybridge and Carleton E. Watkins.  The descriptive works of these and other celebrated 19th-century artists reveal the crucial beginnings of the East Bay's biggest city.

A William Keith watercolor from 1867 shows a very rural Southern Pacific Railroad depot among the oaks on Seventh Street at Adeline.  Another of Danish born Richardt's paintings shows Mrs. Poston's Female Academy, a school that in 1870s occupied the present site of our Oakland Museum of California.  Joseph Lee, an artist with a penchant for meticulous detail, depicted the farmhouse Residence of Captain Thomas W. Badger in Brooklyn, in two paintings from about 1871.  The artist's views from the north and the south also show a train crossing a trestle near the estuary.

Then as now Lake Merritt was a popular subject for landscape painters.  Many artists captured the appeal of this urban lake, which became a recreational park for city residents and the site of America's first wild bird sanctuary.  Its central location can be seen in several early scenes that provide panoramic views of the growing city, such as Léon Trousset's Lake Merritt Scene (View of Oakland), 1875.

Resident artist Marius Dahlgren's depictions of Oakland in the late 1870s and early 1880s includes Alameda County Courthouse, East Oakland, shown in its location at the corner of East 14th Street and 20th Avenue.  Another of his Oakland views from the northwest corner of 12th and Clay Streets features a man on horseback near the First Congregational Church.  Carl Dahlgren, brother of Marius, provides his turn of the century view of the College of Holy Names at its original site near Lake Merritt where the Kaiser Center now stands.

The twentieth century witnessed the greatest changes in Oakland's visible profile, brought on by population growth following the two world wars.  Building booms for housing and business, as well as greater emphasis on cultural and recreational facilities are reflected in exhibited artworks by many painters and photographers active during the twentieth century.  Oakland's changing metropolitan skyline exerted its pictorial appeal on the artworks of several painters during the twentieth century when high-rise office buildings, like City Hall and Tribune Tower, and more recently, skyscraper additions to Civic Center dwarfed the church steeples and tall trees of an earlier cityscape.

Urban subjects began to appear in modern paintings and photographs exhibited in art galleries after the 1920s and 30s.  Mary DeNeal Morgan's painting of Lake Merritt from the 1930s shows on the horizon several of the city's then "skyscrapers" that remain in view to this day.  Painters and photographers such as Lundy Siegriest, Peter Stackpole, Willard Van Dyke and Lewis Watts found inspiration in some of Oakland's freeways, derelict buildings and neglected neighborhoods for subjects that call viewers' attention to the social implications beyond the aesthetics of their scenes.

Historical events such as the disasters of the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 and the fire in the Oakland hills of 1991 have certainly affected the landscape of the city.  Mark Downey, June Felter, Glenna Putt and Ambrose Pillphister captured images of those landscape-altering incidents in their paintings or photographs.

Jan Lassetter's painting of The Trojan Horses, 1988, depicts the Port of Oakland's giant cranes, a dominant sight on today's southwest skyline, symbolic of the Port's importance to the city's commerce.  Anthony Holdsworth makes a specialty of painting the peopled city streets and industrial areas of Oakland.  In two paintings that reflect the combined architectural legacies of both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in downtown Oakland, Holdsworth's pictures stand in dramatic contrast to our anonymous artist's view of lower Broadway in Oakland, May 1854, the chronological beginning of the exhibition.

 

About the author

Harvey L. Jones is senior curator of art at the Oakland Museum of California.

 

Checklist of the Exhibition

1. Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)
View of Oakland, c. 1872
Oil on canvas
6-3/4 x 10-1/4 inches
Gift of the Art Guild of the Oakland Museum Association
 
2. William Clapp (1879-1986)
Estuary Dwellings, c. 1928
Oil on wood panel
20 x 16-1/2 inches
Gift of Donn Schroder
 
3. William A. Coulter (1849-1936)
War Time, 1919
Oil on canvas
36 x 78 inches
Gift of Moore Drydock Company
 
4. Carl Dahlgren (1830-1886)
College of Holy Names, Oakland, c. 1900
Watercolor on paper
16 x 21-1/2 inches
Museum Donors? Acquisition Fund
 
5. Marius Dahlgren (1844-1920)
Alameda County Courthouse, East Oakland, 1882
Oil on canvas
11 x 17-1/2 inches
The Oakland Museum Kahn Collection
 
6. Marius Dahlgren (1844-1920)
Clay and 12th Streets, Oakland, c. 1900
Oil on canvas
15-1/2 x 23-1/2 inches
Lent by Jim Schubert
 
 
7. Willard Dixon (b. 1942)
East Bay, 1979
Oil on canvas
72 x 144 inches
Gift of Marguerite Laird
 
8. Mark Downey (b. 1960)
Collapsed Cypress Freeway, 1989
R - print
16 x 20 inches
Lent by the artist ? courtesy Lucid Images
 
9. Mark Downey (b. 1960)
Oakland Fire Aftermath, 1991
R - print
16 x 20 inches
Lent by the artist ? courtesy Lucid Images
 
10. Jonathan Eubanks (b. 1927)
Boats on the Lake, 1966
Gelatin silver print
15-3/8 x 18-1/2 inches
Museum Donors Acquisition Fund
 
11. June Felter (b. 1919)
Oakland Hills Fire #1, 1992
Acrylic on canvas
54 x 54 inches
Gift of George Krevsky
 
12. Paul Fisher (1891-1982)
East Oakland and the Bay, 1974
Watercolor on paper
12-1/2 x 19-1/2 inches
Gift of Paul Fisher
 
13. Paul Fisher (1891-1982)
The Bus Driver, 1974
Acrylic on canvas
30 x 40 inches
Gift of the Donors? Acquisition Fund
 
14. Jade Fon (1911-1983)
The Bait Gatherers, 6th Ave., c. 1978
Watercolor on paper
20-1/2 x 28-1/2 inches
Lent by Pamela Della
 
15. Jade Fon (1911-1983)
Lake Merritt and Court House, c. 1964
Watercolor on paper
14-7/8 x 22-1/8 inches
Gift of the Reichel Fund
 
16. August Gay (1891-1949)
Oakland Estuary I, c. 1926-1929
Etching on paper
6 x 7 inches
Gift of the Novy Fund
 
17. Selden Conner Gile (1877-1947)
Joaquin Miller Home, 1915
Oil on canvas
11-1/2 x 14-1/2 inches
Gift of Louis B. Siegriest
 
18. Howard Hack (b. 1932)
Oakland Mole, 1965
Oil on canvas
64-3/4 x 105 inches
Gift of the Women?s Board of the Oakland Museum Association
 
19. William Hahn (1829-1887)
Rural Scene by Lake Merritt, 1880
Oil on canvas
30 x 45 inches
Gift of Mr. A.K.P. Harmon, Jr.
 
20. Anthony Holdsworth (b. 1945)
Blues on Broadway, 1994
Oil on canvas
45 x 34 inches
Lent by the artist
 
21. Anthony Holdsworth (b. 1945)
Tourist and Bookmark, 2001
Oil on canvas
17 x 17 inches
Lent by the artist
 
22. Henry Hussey (1887-1959)
Beach, Lake Merritt, c. 1916
Modern print from original glass plate negative
9-1/2 x 7-5/8 inches
Gift of Henry Hussey
 
23. Henry Hussey (1887-1959)
Lake Merritt Looking West, c. 1920
Modern print from original glass plate negative
7-5/8 x 9-1/2 inches
Gift of Henry Hussey
 
24. Charles Chapel Judson (1864-1946)
Dimond Canyon, Fruitvale, 1903
Oil on canvas
19 x 14 inches
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. James R. Allen
 
25. William Keith (1838-1887)
Southern Pacific Depot, 7th & Adeline Streets, 1867
Watercolor on paper
16-3/4 x 23-3/4 inches
Gift of Mrs. Nancy Crane Hussey
 
26. Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)
Broadway in Wartime Oakland, Spring 1943 printed 2002
Gelatin silver print
14 x 11 inches
Gift of Paul S. Taylor
 
27. Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)
Oakland Technical High School, c. 1942 printed 2002
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches
Gift of Paul S. Taylor
 
28. Jan Lassetter (b. 1938)
The Trojan Horses, 1988
Oil on canvas
55 x 60 inches
Lent by the Port of Oakland
 
29. Joseph Lee (1827-1880)
Residence of Capt. Thomas W. Badger, Brooklyn, From the Northwest, c. 1871
Oil on canvas
26-1/4 x 42 inches
Gift of Lester M. Hale
 
30. Joseph Lee (1827-1880)
Residence of Capt. Thomas W. Badger, Brooklyn, From the South, c. 1871
Oil on canvas
26-1/4 x 42 inches
Gift of Lester M. Hale
 
31. P.G. Lindsay (dates not known)
Residence of Samuel Merritt, c. 1868
Watercolor and ink on paper
10 x 22 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Howard Willoughby and Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Buttner
 
32. Fred Martin (b. 1927)
10th Street Looking East, #1, 1955
Oil on masonite
7-1/2 x 14 inches
Gift of Fred Martin
 
33. Fred Martin (b. 1927)
10th Street Looking East, #2, 1955
Oil on masonite
7-3/4 x 12 inches
Gift of Fred Martin
 
34. Xavier Tizoc Martinez (1869-1943)
The Bay, c. 1910
Oil on canvas
30-1/2 x 36 inches
Gift of Dr. William S. Porter
 
35. Mary DeNeale Morgan (1868-1948)
Lake Merritt, Oakland, c. 1935
Oil on paperboard
19-1/2 x 26-3/8 inches
Gift of the Reichel Fund
 
36. Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904)
Mills Seminary, Seminary Park, Alameda Co., CAL., 1873
Mammoth plate albumen print
15-1/2 x 21-1/4 inches
Gift of Mills College
 
37. John Herbert Evelyn Partington (1843-1899)
Lake Temescal, 1890
Oil on canvas
20 x 30 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard M. Logan
 
38. Richard Langtry Partington (1868-1929)
A Summer Day at Lake Merritt, c. 1907
Oil on canvas
16-1/4 x 22-1/4 inches
Gift of the Reichel Fund
 
39. Ambrose Pillphister (b. 1934)
Oakland Fire #2, 1991
Gouache on panel
15-1/2 x 22 inches
Lent by Garry and Sylvia Bennett
 
40. George Post (1906-1997)
3rd and Alice, 1949
Watercolor on paper
22 x 28 inches
Gift of George Post
 
41. Glenna Putt (b 1927)
Oakland Fire II, 1991
Oil on paper
12-1/2 x 15-1/2 inches
Lent by Charles and Glenna Campbell
 
42. William S. Rice (1873-1963)
Lake Aliso, Mills College, 1911
Watercolor on paper
8-1/2 x 11-1/4 inches
Lent by Terry Geiser and Janet Mark
 
43. Ferdinand Richardt (1819-1895)
First Street Train and Trestle, c. 1875
Oil on canvas
19 x 27 inches
Lent by Dr. Oscar and Trudy Lemer, San Francisco, CA
 
44. Ferdinand Richardt (1819-1895)
Mrs. Poston?s Female Academy, c. 1879
Oil on canvas
27-1/4 x 40 inches
Gift of Miss Elaine Sweet
 
45. Ferdinand Richardt (1819-1895)
Oaks at Madison and 8th Streets, c. 1875
Oil on canvas
14-1/4 x 21-1/4 inches
Gift of Mr. Lester M. Hale
 
46. Ferdinand Richardt (1819-1895)
Pardee House, Oakland, c. 1880
Pencil on paper
14-3/4 x 22-1/4 inches
Gift of Mr. Gustav. H. Schneider
 
47. Robert C. Rishell (1917-1976)
Oakland Railroad Scene, c. 1965
Watercolor on paper
20-1/8 x 26 inches
Gift of the Women?s Board of the Oakland Museum Association
 
48. Louis Siegriest (1899-1980)
Oakland Quarry, 1920
Oil on cardboard
12 x 16-1/4 inches
Gift of Louis Siegriest
 
49. Lundy Siegriest (1925-1985)
Freeway, 5th Avenue Marina, 1978
Oil on canvas
8-1/2 x 10-1/2 inches
Gift of the Estate of Lundy Siergriest
 
50. Peter Stackpole (1913-1997)
Oakland, Concrete Overpass, 1970
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
City of Oakland
 
51. Roger Sturtevant (1903-1982)
Forest Path, c. 1920
Gelatin silver print
7-5/8 x 5-5/8 inches
Gift of the artist
 
52. Roger Sturtevant (1903-1982)
Trestle Glen, 1920
Gelatin silver print
4-3/16 x 6-15/16 inches
Gift of the artist
 
53. Léon Trousset (active 1867 to 1882)
Lake Merritt Scene (View of Oakland), 1875
Oil on canvas
27 x 34 inches
Lent by Garzoli Gallery
 
54. Unknown Artist
Lake Merritt, c. 1870
Oil on canvas
36 x 62 inches
Gift of the Kahn Foundation
 
55. Unknown Artist
Oakland, May 1854, 1854
Drawing and watercolor
6-3/8 x 10-7/8 inches
Collection of the Oakland Museum
 
56. Unknown Artist
Panoramic View of Oakland, c. 1893
Albumen print
Composite group of four photographs, each 10 x 20 inches
Lent by Thomas Rogers
 
57. Willard Van Dyke (1906-1986)
Oakland Store Front, c. 1934
Gelatin silver print
9-1/2 x 7-1/2 inches
Museum Donors? Acquisition Fund
 
58. Bernard von Eichman (1899-1970)
Bright Lights, 1928
Watercolor on paper
14-1/2 x 17-1/2 inches
Gift of the artist
 
59. Bernard von Eichman (1899-1970)
Eighth Street, 1928
Waterccolor on paper
14 x 19 inches
Gift of artist
 
60. Bernard von Eichman (1899-1970)
West Oakland, 1928
Watercolor on paper
16-1/2 x 22-1/2 inches
Gift of the artist
 
61. Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916)
12th St. Oakland, c. 1880
Modern print from original albumen print
11-1/2 x 16-5/8 inches
Gift of Mrs. Charlotte Boggs
 
62. Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916)
13th St. Oakland, c. 1880
Modern print from original albumen print
11-1/2 x 16-5/8 inches
Gift of Mrs. Charlotte Boggs
 
63. Lewis Watts (b. 1946)
Martin Luther King Way, 1993
Gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches
Gift of Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation
 
64. Lewis Watts (b. 1946)
Mrs. Watters Just Arrived For Her Daughter?s Wedding, New Oakland Train Station, 1997
Gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches
Gift of Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation
 
65. John C. White (active 1859-1873)
The Oakland Long Wharf, 1873
Watercolor on paper
23 x 49 inches
Lent by Garzoli Gallery
 
66. Raymond D. Yelland (1868-1929)
Fruitvale Meadows, 1894
Oil on canvas
14 x 22 inches
Gift of Mr. William Raymond Yelland

 

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