The Gold Rush that started in 1848 marked the beginning of a period of dramatic transformation in California. Following the state’s official entry into the Union in 1850, a sudden influx of United States citizens and immigrants from around the world profoundly and precipitously altered the region. The state rose to national prominence only to be brought to its knees when its largest city, San Francisco, was reduced to rubble in the 1906 earthquake.
In the intervening half century, the state’s myriad possibilities became important subject matter for numerous US and European artists. This exhibition considers some of the themes that were popular among painters: the Gold Rush, exploration of the Sierras, the burgeoning agricultural industry, Chinatown, and the Great San Francisco Earthquake. Drawn exclusively from the California Historical Society’s collection, the show presents paintings alongside archival materials—photographs, letters, books, and ephemera—that deepen our understanding of these subjects.