Hilbert Museum of California Art debuts with California scene paintings


Whether it’s the golden-hued marina at Diver’s Cove in Laguna Beach, the sparkly Pacific Ocean wafting against Palos Verdes’ sweeping cliffs or the lonely-looking San Dimas Train Station, circa 1933, at dawn, there’s a beautifully distinct quality to the California light.

A bounty of such imagery is on display at Chapman University’s new Hilbert Museum of California Art, which debuted in Orange County last month. It’s the only cultural institution in the U.S. dedicated entirely to California scene paintings, the museum says.

The museum’s collection of 247 works was a gift from longtime Newport Beach art collectors Mark and Janet Hilbert, who spent two and a half decades acquiring more than 1,000 pieces of California art. The Hilberts say their plan is to eventually give their entire collection -- valued at more than $7 million – to the museum. The couple also gave $3 million toward construction of a permanent museum building on the university’s campus.

“I wanted to establish a museum in Orange County not far from where we live so I could really enjoy seeing people enjoy the works,” Mark Hilbert says.


The museum, he says, will present many California artists who were also pioneers in the film Industry.

“The same artists pushing the limits with what was being done on film were also creating works on canvas and paper,” Hilbert says. “Unfortunately, the focus has mainly been their film work, not their fine art. Our goal was to show and enlighten people about the amazing amount of talent that existed with the California artists that were part of the American Scene movement.”

The museum’s inaugural exhibition, “Narrative Visions: 20th Century California Art From the Hilbert Collection,” features a little more than 100 works from the collection, mostly oil and watercolor paintings created between the 1913 and 1989 and depicting quotidian city and country scenes across the Golden State.

Organized by independent curator Gordon McClelland, “Narrative Visions,” which runs through Dec. 30, includes paintings by Millard Sheets, Emil Kosa Jr., Phil Dike, Milford Zornes and Rex Brandt, among others. Collectively, the works present a portrait of California and its cultural and historical evolution.

“They capture the California light and the positive, upbeat tone of California, which has always been the land of opportunity,” Mark Hilbert says. “I think they tell an important story about the people and the geography of California. It’s a story of a land of very creative people that brought us Hollywood, brought us [innovation], brought us the surf culture – the creative, energetic people of California.”


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