Exhibits & Collections
- The Capitol Collection
- Special Exhibits
- Capitol Family Art
- Flag Collection
Located throughout both the historic State Capitol's West Wing and the East Annex, the Capitol Art Program maintains three collected works of paintings: the Permanent Collection, the Loan Collection, and the Biennial Senate Contemporary Art Collection. The combined collection includes hundreds of prized paintings, murals, statues, and antique furniture chosen to portray the various phases of California's history and depict significant eras of the State Capitol.
The Permanent Collection
They are exhibited in accordance with two historic time frames. To be displayed in the West Wing, a painting should have been created during the building's early, interpretive period, 1870 to 1910. Art displayed in the East Annex is from 1920 to 1950. Paintings from both time periods can be found in public hearing rooms and legislative offices.
The Loan Collection
Over the last 20 years and through the generosity of many individuals and art institutions, the Loan Collection now includes well over 100 period paintings. Many are by California’s most respected artists, including Thomas Hill, William Keith, Raymond Dabb Yelland, and Edwin Deakin, and evoke that same "essence" of California as those in the permanent collection.
As of this writing, some of the loaned pieces are at the State Capitol for very short time periods; others have stayed for years. The California Legislature and managers of the Capitol Collection are happy to review guidelines and conditions of the Loan Collection with any interested parties.
The Contemporary Art Collection
The California State Senate’s Contemporary Art Collection program, begun in 1997, recognizes and celebrates contemporary art created by the wide variety of artists throughout the state.
Every other year, each Senator is asked to select an artist who he or she feels best represents his or her district. In the past, they have been selected through school programs, senior centers, art galleries, and county art programs and arts councils. The result is a joint effort between the participating Senators and their artists.
These artists bring to the Capitol an extensive range of cultures, backgrounds and training. The media with which they work is also as varied – acrylics, oils, bronze sculpture, blown glass, mixed media, and watercolors. The talented, diverse, and colorful selection seen at each exhibit is a testament to the fact that contemporary art is alive and well in California.
Additionally, the Capitol is home to two stunning murals. One, installed on the walls of the West Wing lower level rotunda, is a fascinating depiction of California's past and future as perceived by artist Arthur Mathews and painted during the years 1914 and 1915. Twelve panels portray the discovery of California, the Mission Period, Commodore Sloat entering Monterey Bay, the Gold Rush, other historic periods, and the artist's view of how California's future would appear.
The other important mural display is in the East Annex's John L. Burton Room on the fourth floor. The display consists of three gleaming, large murals created by Lucile Lloyd as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project during the Great Depression entitled, The Origin of the Name of the State of California.
In 1931, the Legislature authorized and formalized the tradition of commissioning portraits of California's governors. Portraits of 38 governors are displayed throughout the West Wing. The styles vary, depending on the Governor and the artist chosen to produce the portrait.
The Capitol Art Program is maintained by a curator. The curator conducts research, maintains files, develops exhibits, recommends conservation when needed, and transfers artwork when required. The curator also advises the Legislature on possible art purchases and donations.
Previous exhibit themes include the Dust Bowl’s effect on California and the Legislature’s response to it, and California’s role in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I. Special exhibits have displayed contemporary Native American art and the art of retired Capitol employees. Here you can find more information on the Museum’s current exhibit as well as previous ones.
The Mathews Murals are an excellent example of a regional artistic style known as "California Decorative." Arthur F. Mathews, a prominent San Francisco artist, and his wife, Lucia Kleinhans Mathews, combined a romantic classicism and idealism with a Renaissance color palette and California imagery to create this distinctive style.
Painted by Lucile Lloyd and funded by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, the three panels tell the history of the name of California. The two side panels portray important flags that have flown over the state. The central panel shows the history and development of the state through the Spanish, Mexican, and American eras. Realistic figures trace the state’s history and vivid images illustrate the state’s unique natural beauty and resources.
Today, only the statuary on the west front pediment tympanum (the recessed space enclosed by the triangular pediment) is original. These statues reflect the Capitol's roots in Greek architecture. In Grecian times, statuary was considered part of the building, not as mere decoration. It was a way to visually communicate and transmit epics and mythology in a largely illiterate society.
During the restoration of the statues in the 1970s, Native American and Latino groups, critical of Columbus’s legacy in ushering in an era of genocide and colonialism for the Native Peoples of the Western Hemisphere, advocated that the statue not be returned to its former location after its temporary removal during the restoration. Despite such criticism, the statue was returned to the Capitol Rotunda.
The Joint Rules Committee and State Capitol Museum are proud to present "Capitol Family Art," an exhibit of paintings, mixed media, and sculpture by former legislators.
The Fabric of History
The State Capitol Museum has an impressive collection of 50 historic flags that were carried by California units in the Civil War, Spanish American War, and World War I.
The fragile flags are exhibited four at a time at various events during the year. The limited showings ensure the preservation and protection of this rare and irreplaceable collection. Some of these delicate banners are currently undergoing careful conservation and therefore have not been exhibited for several years.
The Civil War: California Troops did Their Part
During the Civil War, California provided 17,119 enlistees and 3 million in gold to support the war effort.
In 1862, quotas for men to fight in the Eastern United States were issued for each state. California did not have to meet the quota since it was required only to defend the West Coast. However, when the state of Massachusetts was not able to meet its required quota, California agreed to send its own troops to represent the state. One hundred brave California men volunteered to be soldiers for Massachusetts and went on to fight in over 20 battles during the Civil War. These courageous men became known as the "California Hundred" and carried a flag bearing symbols representing their home state.
A year earlier, in the late hours of Independence Day 1861, Major J. P. Gillis, a Confederate sympathizer, began waving a Confederate flag on the corner of 2nd and J Streets, in Sacramento. J.W. "Jack" Biderman witnessed the display and immediately wrestled the flag away from Mr. Gillis. Jack became somewhat of a local hero in Sacramento from the incident and would later be the first proprietor of the famous Silver Palace at the Central Pacific Rail Yard in West Sacramento.
The guidon flag proudly carried by the "California Hundred" and the “Biderman Flag,” the only known California Confederate flag in public trust, are now a cherished part of the Capitol Museum’s Historic Flag Collection.
Capitol Park Memorials in their Honor
On May 1, 1897, Memorial Grove, a grove of tree saplings, was planted in Capitol Park to honor all Civil War soldiers who lost their lives. This living monument once included trees from the battlefields of Manassas, Harpers Ferry, Savannah, Five Forks, Yellow Tavern, Vicksburg and other Civil War-related sites. Many of them have been lost over the decades due to age, sickness, and drought. Visit the Capitol Park Tour for more information.