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"Missions to Murals, 1820–1930"
Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, California
by Liz Goldner

James Walker, “Charros at Roundup,” 1877, oil on canvas, 30 1/2 x 50 1/2”. Elisabeth Waldo Dentzel Collection of American Art, Northridge, California.


"California Mexicana: Missions to Murals, 1820–1930" features more than 100 historic paintings, along with posters, books, photographs and film. Artworks from both sides of the border depict missions, ranchos and romantic California scenes. Included are cross-border modern works by Diego Rivera, Edward Weston and other notable artists of the time. The exhibition’s underlying premise addresses how Mexico became California, while exploring artistic and cultural influences when California was part of New Spain and later of Mexico. As exhibition curator Katherine Manthorne writes in the catalog, “Long before the Chicano movement of the 1960s, before Los Tres Grandes arrived in the 1930s to paint the walls of West Coast institutions, and before the Mexican Revolution of 1910, Mexican art and culture left an indelible mark on California.” The show further explains that after Mexico became independent, and after California became a state, cross-cultural influences continued in identity defining artworks, pictorial motifs and symbols. Of special note is the interplay of art and history. A striking example is Charles Christian Nahl’s watercolor, “Grizzly Bear of California” (ca.1854), which inspired the bear on our state flag. The original flag, created for the “Bear Flag Revolt,” incorporates red, white and green, the colors of the Mexican flag. 


“California Mexicana” is divided into nine sections, beginning with depictions of our state’s missions. This section includes Ferdinand Deppe’s oil, "San Gabriel Mission” (ca.1832-35), illustrating the adobe style architecture, expansive property and diversity of people in the mission, set against the dramatic San Gabriel Mountains. Chapter two, elucidating the rancho lifestyle, features James Walker’s “Charros at Roundup” (1877), a portrayal of a Mexican garbed ranchero on horseback. Mid-nineteenth century California images include an 1847 Currier and Ives lithograph, “Battle of Buena Vista.” Other sections illustrate scenes from late nineteenth century California and the Mexican-American War. The final section brings the viewer to twentieth century modernism with paintings and photos that bridge Californian and Mexican styles and culture.

Laguna Art Museum

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