By collecting and exhibiting European art, E. B. and Margaret Crocker linked the capital of the new state of California to the culture of the Old World. Their purchases, made for the most part during a European trip of 1869 through 1871, brought an unprecedented number of pictures to Northern California.
Traveling among the various capitals of the German art world and perhaps farther afield, they amassed a core collection based on their own taste rather than attempting an encyclopedic survey of the history of painting. Along the way, they acquired a significant number of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish still lifes and genre scenes, as well as French and Italian works of the 17th and 18th centuries. The main focus of their collecting, however, was contemporary German painting of the Dresden, Munich, and Düsseldorf schools. They likely bought from artists’ studios, given the large number of paintings dated between 1868 and 1870, as well as from exhibitions at art academies. Given the strong connection between the art worlds of California and Germany, where many Californian artists trained, the collection was especially appropriate for its time. It remained intact with few additions through the 20th century, as the status of German 19th-century painting changed. The period is now experiencing a revival, with new scholarship and exhibitions in Europe and the United States. The Crocker is one of the few American institutions with this strength, and continuing research will allow the collection to participate more fully in this reassessment.
Another remarkable feature of the collection lies in the 1,344 master drawings the Crockers purchased during their time in Europe. These drawings form one of the largest early collections in the United States. Included are the first Dürer drawing to enter the United States and drawings by Fra Bartolomeo, Boucher, and Fragonard. The Crockers pur chased them from several sources. Though many of the drawings come from German collections, especially the estate of the Leipzig dealer and scholar Rudolf Weigel, collectors’ marks place others in French collections in the late 1860s. Here, as with the European paintings, the objects themselves provide the best evidence for their origins, since few records of the Crockers’ purchases have come to light.
The master drawings collection first supported artists who were training at the Sacramento School of Design, which met at the Crocker beginning in 1886. Drawings were exhibited occasionally in the galleries in the early 20th century, but specialists in master drawings—a field that did not truly develop in the United States until the 1920s, a full fifty years after the Crocker purchase—discovered the collection only in the late 1930s. The death in 1942 of Numa S. Trivas, a Russian specialist who began to catalogue the drawings, meant that scholarly study of the Crocker collection took place sporadically for many years. International loan exhibitions provided the opportunity to study individual Crocker drawings in con text, while California university professors also organized exhibitions from the collection. Recently, a concerted effort for systematic study has widened the audience for the master drawings collection dramatically. Crocker staff have written articles, organized traveling exhibitions and accompanying catalogues, secured gifts, and made purchases for the collection, which now numbers close to 1,500 sheets and continues to grow.
Recent gifts of European art broaden the collections of both paintings and works on paper and open up new areas of focus. Significantly, sixty-seven Dutch paintings from Jan and Mary Ann Beekhuis will allow the Crocker to show a wider view of 19th-century art in Northern Europe, forming a fitting counterpart to the founding collection’s German paintings. An anonymous gift of ceramics and works on paper from Pierre Auguste Renoir and his circle has allowed us to expand our small but growing collection of French art, while the gift of the Kathy and Ronald Gillmeister Collection of Early Meissen Porcelain has brought one of the finest collections of 18th century Meissen tableware in private hands to the Crocker. The long-time support of Anne and Malcolm McHenry for the drawings collection has been instrumental in the expansion of our holdings and audience.