Editor's note: The following essay was reprinted in Resource Library on July 26, 2006 with the permission of the Hearst Art Gallery at Saint Mary's College and the author. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or wish to obtain a copy of the catalogue from which it is excerpted, please contact the Hearst Art Gallery directly through either this phone number or web address:

Manuel Valencia: California's Native Son

by Julie Armistead


Manuel Valencia had the good fortune to come of age in the latter half of the 19th century when San Francisco truly began to flourish as a city and support a growing contingent of artists. He was born in 1856, a mere seven years after the onset of the Gold Rush. Eleven years later, the transcontinental railroad was completed, and California experienced an increasing flow of westward migration. While he was still a young man, the San Francisco Art Association and Bohemian Club were founded, providing venues for artists to socialize with newly-prosperous businessmen and budding art collectors. It was an exhilarating time. But there is another aspect to his life that makes Manuel Valencia distinctive in the annals of California art: as a direct descendant of one of the soldiers of the 1775-1776 Anza-Moraga expedition to establish the Mission and Presidio of San Francisco, he is certainly one of California's first native-born artists.

Manuel Valencia's great great grandfather, José Manuel Valenzia[1] was born in Guadalupé, Zacatecas, Mexico in 1749. Recruited for the Anza-Moraga expedition,[2] he came to California with his wife, Maria Luz Muñoz, and three children, Maria Gertrudis (age 15), Francisco Maria (age 8) and Ignacio Maria (age 3). After making the long journey north, the expedition arrived at the place that became Yerba Buena, later San Francisco. The family would have been present when the first mass was conducted on June 29, 1776 under an arbor on the spot where Mission Dolores would be constructed.[3] This important event happened just days before the American Declaration of Independence was signed on the opposite coast. According to Dorothy Mutnick in one of her important histories of early California, José Manuel was a soldier in the mission escort, and after his enlistment period had ended, he remained as a crew member. Toward the end of his life, José Manuel was one of the earliest settlers of Pueblo San José, which became the first capital of California in 1849.[4] Later, Manuel Valencia would paint several versions of the first capitol building, one of which is included in this exhibition. When Manuel moved his family to San José after the 1906 earthquake, he was retracing his great great grandfather's footsteps.

Manuel Valencia was a Californio, a title used to identify the Spanish-speaking settlers of California and their descendants. Several of his relatives were granted tracts of land by the Mexican government, which claimed all of California by right of discovery. Two siblings of José Antonio Valencia, Manuel Valencia's grandfather, were granted land in Contra Costa County. All three siblings were children of Francisco Maria Valencia, José Manuel's son who, like his father, served in the San Francisco Company. Candelario Valencia, also a soldier, obtained the Acalanes tract (part of present-day Lafayette) in 1834; within five years it was sold. Accounts differ as to why he gave up the land ­ like many Californios, he could have sold it to pay off debts, but it is also possible that he decided the tract was too remote after his sister Maria Manuela's husband, Felipé Briones, was killed by Indians in 1839. He lived on his other property near Mission Dolores in San Francisco, and most records indicate that Valencia Street was named either for him or for the family. Candalario's sister, Maria Manuela Valencia, received Boca de la Cañada de Pinole, a grant located between Martinez and Lafayette in 1842. She spent years proving her claim to the satisfaction of the American government after the Mexican-American War and finally succeeded in 1878.[5] Additional Valencia descendants received grants or married other Californios who had their own. California is dotted with towns and other locales named for these settlers.[6]

"The name of Manuel Valencia is as closely identified with the early development of California art as is that of his Spanish forebear, General Valencia, with its history," states his July 10, 1935 obituary in the San Francisco News. Although the obituary mistakenly identified his great great grandfather as a General, it makes an important point. Valencia mingled with many of the notable artists of the day and submitted paintings to the San Francisco Art Association and Bohemian Club exhibitions. Although largely self-taught, he studied briefly with Jules Tavernier, a most respected artist and colorful character. He painted on weekends with fellow artists Angel Espoy, Carl Jonnevold and John Califano. He was employed as a staff artist for the San Francisco Call newspaper and was a friend of M. H. de Young. Valencia maintained a studio in San Francisco and sold his paintings through Gump's and Morris & Kennedy's in San Francisco, and Delmonico's in New York.[7]

Manuel Valencia was born on October 30, 1856. Some sources list San Rafael as his place of birth, while others cite Rancho San José, which is merely another name for the vast 6,659 acre Pacheco Land Grant given to Ignacio Pacheco in 1840.[8] It should be remembered that San Rafael as a city was not incorporated until 1874, and much of what is now northern San Rafael and southern Novato was a part of Rancho San José. So the discrepancy may be one of semantics only. The assertion that Manuel Valencia was born in the Valencia hacienda on Rancho San José deserves a bit more scrutiny, however, and involves some additional historical background.

Ignacio Pacheco was a descendant of Juan Salvio Pacheco, another Anza-Moraga party member, so it would not be unlikely that a lasting friendship between the Pachecos and the Valencias could have developed.[9] Ignacio constructed an adobe home on the Marin property and lived there for the rest of his life. His estate was divided between his widow and children; the adobe home, along with 600 acres, went to daughter Catalena. About 1870, Catalena married Francisco Ignacio Valencia, who was Manuel Valencia's cousin and a son of Candelario.[10] Mildred Hoover, in her book Historic Spots in California, writes that at least for a time after the marriage, the home was known as the Valencia adobe; however, Catalena, who was born in 1857, was one year younger than Manuel. If Manuel Valencia were born in the adobe home, it would have been prior to the merging of the two families.

Valencia began painting as a youth, perhaps inspired by his artist father, also named Manuel Valencia. One of the paintings included in this exhibition, Sutter's Fort, was the subject of a letter Valencia wrote to Mr. J. L. Gillis of the California State Library in 1912: "...I am glad to give you an idea in regard to the painting of Sutter's Fort you mentioned in your letter. Of course, I have painted several views of the same, if the one now in your possession is a full view of the place it was painted about 1875 or thereabout from a sketch done by my father a few months after the capture of General Vallejo in 1846, if I am not mistaken."[11]

Painting did not, however, always pay the bills. As with many other artists of the day, Valencia's earliest employment was as an illustrator. He worked for the Salvation Army magazine Western War Cry which was published in San Francisco between 1883 and 1900,[12] and it was during that time that Valencia met and married Mabel Eadon,[13] with whom he had nine children. The family lived in San Francisco, and Valencia maintained a studio there as well. At the time of the 1906 earthquake and fire, he "rode his horse to his Sutter Street studio. He found his studio in a mess ­ all his father's sketches and all his own valuable oil paintings, however, were still intact ­ the U.S. Militia refused to let him take any of his goods away ­ then later on during the same day ­ THE FIRE came and burnt them all."[14]

Valencia moved his family to 954 Vine Street, San Jose, although he continued to keep a studio in San Francisco. On November 9, 1906 Valencia received a letter from his dealer, Abe Gump, who was critical of some paintings he had sent for sale. Mr. Gump wrote, "I am living in Marin County and the hills all look more or less brown and have not the greenish-yellow that is in some of your pictures. I think you are making a mistake not living in Marin County, as just before the Earthquake you had the right ideas about Marin County scenery."[15] Just three years earlier, while living at Bolinas, Valencia received critical praise for his work in a March 15, 1903 San Francisco Chronicle review. "Valencia, who is rapidly coming to the front as an artist of great sincerity with unusual ability in expression of what he sees, continues to work at Bolinas, where he has unfolded his easels and umbrellas for an extended stay. He is sending out some small marines of great merit." In 1912, Valencia served as the Director of the Art Gallery at the Santa Clara County Fair and also mounted an exhibition of 80 of his paintings in the Russ Building in San Francisco. Another undated catalog of Valencia's landscapes attests to his sense of humor, with the following lines printed on the cover, "Good Pictures, Like Clever Criminals, Are Apt to be Unhung," as does his business card, with the motto, "Boost, Don't Knock." [16]

True to his Californio heritage, Valencia painted scenes of the California missions, an endeavor that was popularized by other artists such as Edwin Deakin and Chris Jorgensen, but his motivation may have been quite different. Essayist Sheri Bernstein hypothesized, "the romanticized image of the dons of Alta California was far preferable to the derogatory view of contemporary Mexicans that prevailed within the dominant culture."[17] Valencia clearly traveled all over the state, and beyond, to capture his landscapes. One mission painting in this exhibition, whose location has not been identified, resembles architecture found farther to the southwest or even in Mexico, where Valencia studied painting and where he was made an honorary member of the Escuela de Bellas Artes.[18]

Manuel Valencia was a prolific painter who focused the passion of his Californio spirit to capture on canvas the essence of the California landscape. In 1967 Lewis Ferbache, former curator at the Oakland Museum, paid tribute to Valencia by asserting that, "at his best, there is genuine personal poetry in his work."[19] An art review in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 15, 1903 described him as "an artist of great sincerity with unusual ability in expression of what he sees..." and critic Laura Bride Powers praised him for continuing to evolve as an artist when she stated in 1905, "His last work, oaks done down at Santa Barbara, shows great improvement along technical lines, without detracting in the least from its virility and truth."[20]

Manuel Valencia died at age 79 in Sacramento on July 6, 1935, after an operation. It is fitting that his family scattered his ashes on Mt. Tamalpais, not far from the place where he was born. It is my hope that this exhibition, which brings together some of his very best paintings, will lead to a reevaluation of his life and work. How appropriate if that could happen here, at the Hearst Art Gallery, a place linked historically with the Valencia family and the Anza-Moraga expedition.


1 The original spelling of the name was Valenzia, although it was changed to Valencia in the next generation. The name José is also sometimes seen as Josef or Joseph.

2 Juan Bautista de Anza was charged with the task of finding an overland route from Sonora (now southern Arizona) to northern California for two reasons: to establish a safer, more reliable means of sending supplies to the missions and presidios that were being founded in California, and to colonize the area for the Spanish.

3 The present Mission Dolores was completed in 1791.

4 Mutnick, Dorothy Gittinger, Some Alta California Pioneers and Descendants 1776-1852; Mutnick, Dorothy Gittinger, Some California Poppies & Even a Few Mommies, with a History of Upper California During the First Hundred Years; Mutnick's original research located at the Moraga Historical Society; Bancroft, H. H., History of California, Vol. 1542-1800; www.sfgenealogy.com. In Mildred Hoover's Historic Spots in California, she says that the first legislature in San Jose was called the "Legislature of a Thousand Drinks" because the legislators imbibed freely and often adjourned to the local saloon. The capital was moved to Vallejo in 1851.

5 Mutnick, Mildred Gittinger, Some California Poppies; Hoover, Mildred Brooke, Historic Spots in California; California State Archives, Spanish and Mexican Land Grant Maps 1855-1875; University of California, Berkeley, Library, Mexican Land Grants for Contra Costa County.

6 For example, Saint Mary's College is located in Moraga, named after Joaquin Moraga, grandson of José Joaquin Moraga, Anza's lieutenant who assumed command of the expedition when Anza returned to Mexico. Moraga led the party into San Francisco and was the first Commander of the Presidio and Mission, a position he held until he died 9 years later. Joaquin was granted Rancho Laguna de los Palos Colorados, in what is now the Moraga Valley.

7 Biographical sketech of Manuel Valencia, prepared by Edwin Valencia, Jr., in the Mary Lou Valencia Giller Family Papers; Hughes, Edan, Artists in California, 1786-1940, biographical entries for Angel Espoy and Manuel Valencia; Lekisch, Barbara, Embracing Scenes of Lakes Tahoe and Donner; San Francisco Chronicle, obituary, July 6, 1935.

8 Sacramento Bee, July 6, 1935; San Francisco Chronicle, July 6, 1935; pioneer card in the California Section of the California State Library completed by daughter Ethel Valencia Grau in 1935; Hughes, Edan, Artists in California, biographical entry for Manuel Valencia.

9 There was a certain prestige to being one of the select few who founded San Francisco; there also was much intermarriage among the Anza-Moraga expedition families.

10 1870 California Census, Marin County; 1880 California Census, Marin County.

11 California Section of the California State Library; also quoted in Lekisch, Barbara, Embracing Scenes of Lakes Tahoe and Donner.

12 The Western War Cry ceased publishing after 1900, and resumed again from 1921 until 1967, when all the regional War Cry magazines were merged into one national publication.

13 They married November 29, 1896. According to Edwin Valencia, Jr., Mabel Eadon was from Leeds, England, and was also an artist.

14 Letter from Manuel Valencia's son, Edwin J. Valencia to Jeanne Van Nostrand, May 16, 1946, quoted in Lekisch, Barbara, Embracing Scenes of Lakes Tahoe and Donner.

15 Mary Lou Valencia Giller Family Papers.

16 Catalog of the Santa Clara County Fair Art Gallery in the Mary Lou Valencia Giller Family Papers; Russ Building exhibition mentioned in the San Francisco Call, June 14, 1912.

17 Bernstein, Sheri, "Selling California, 1900-1920" in Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity 1900-2000, p. 94.

18 Sacramento Bee, obituary, July 6, 1935; Hughes, Edan, Artists in California; biographical sketech of Manuel Valencia, prepared by Edwin Valencia, Jr., in the Mary Lou Valencia Giller Family Papers.

19 Oakland Museum of California Artist File.

20 San Francisco Call, November 5, 1905.


About the exhibition Manuel Valencia: California's Native Son (1856-1935):

The Hearst Art Gallery at Saint Mary's College will present Manuel Valencia: California's Native Son (1856-1935) from September 9 through October 15, 2006. Manuel Valencia: California's Native Son (1856-1935) is a retrospective of more than fifty paintings by this turn of the century landscape painter selected from public and private collections. The above essay is contained in the catalogue which accompanies the exhibition.


About the author:

Julie Armistead is Hearst Art Gallery Registrar/Collections Manager and the guest curator of the exhibition.


Resource Library editor's note:

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Heidi Donner of the Hearst Art Gallery for her introduction of the author to this publication and her help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text. Readers may also enjoy the images in our preview article for the exhibition Manuel Valencia: California's Native Son (1856-1935) (7/10/06).


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