The San Diego Museum of Art

The San Diego Museum of Art

“Art of the Americas”

The San Diego Museum of Art has an eclectic collection, housed in a beautiful Spanish-style not-too-big building, located in San Diego’s Balboa Park. The Museum holds a broad collection of Arts of the Americas, Spanish old master paintings, Asian and European art. And oddly enough, one of the strongest collections of German Expressionism in the United States.

Francis Luis Mora (American, born Uruguay died New York, 1874 – 1940), “Morning News” (1912), 30x41cm, The San Diego Museum of Art.
Mora, known for his depiction of every day, features in this painting commuters riding close together on a streetcar, highlighting the increasing presence of women in the workplace at a time of rapid social and industrial change. Scenes of New York City, undergoing enormous transformation, blur through the window.

The original inspiration for a permanent public art gallery can be traced to the Panama-California International Exposition, held in Balboa Park during 1915–1916. The Exposition was organized to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal and to promote San Diego as a seaport. Among its numerous displays representing various industries and products was a prominent exhibition of fine arts featuring European old masters, American art, and works by California and San Diego artists. The public response to the art exhibition convinced civic leaders and prominent local artists that San Diego needed its own fine arts gallery and collection.

Guy Orlando Rose (American, 1867 – 1925), “Fisherman’s Cove, Laguna Beach” (c1918), 50x61cm, The San Diego Museum of Art.
Born in San Gabriel, on his father’s ranch, Rose studied at the California School of Design (now San Francisco Art Institute). He left for Paris in 1888, and soon joined the international artist colony in Giverny, home of Claude Monet. When Rose returned to California several years later in 1914, he was drawn to the scenery of La Jolla, Laguna Beach, and Carmel, painting the sun-drenched vistas in a vigorous and loose impressionistic style. Rose’s experience in France and his passion for the local scenery made him a central figure in the movement of California Impressionism. 

Planning for the new museum began in 1922. A prominent site on the north side of Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama was secured. As “The Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego”, the museum officially opened its doors on February 28, 1926.

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887 – 1986), “The White Trumpet Flower” (1932), 76x101cm, The San Diego Museum of Art.
Despite the influence of many established artists, O’Keeffe was able to develop her own distinctive response to modernism, separating herself from her contemporaries through her focused study of the natural world and, specifically, the copious canvases in which she presented flowers. She often enlarged flowers, making a single bloom dominate the entire pictorial space. In The White Trumpet Flower, O’Keeffe explores the beauty of nature and emphasizes formal qualities such as shape, color, and line. The independence O’Keeffe exuded in her paintings was reflected in her creative practice as she refined her artistic process and kept to a consistent regime. She stretched and primed her own canvases, kept cardboard squares of her favorite colors, which she typically used to select her color palette before beginning a work, and often visualized a work completely before she began painting.

The architect William Templeton Johnson (1877–1950) designed and constructed the new art gallery. The Spanish Colonial–style architecture from the 1915 Exposition suggested the style for Johnson’s design. Johnson however, went one step further and looked directly to sixteenth-century Spanish Renaissance models for inspiration. For the building’s exterior, they borrowed motifs from the Cathedral of Valladolid, Spain, and the façade of the University of Salamanca, Spain, while for the interior they adapted features of the Hospital de la Santa Cruz in Toledo, Spain. Also enhancing the façade with the addition of sculptural elements including life-sized sculptures of Spanish Old Master painters Velázquez, Murillo, and Zurbarán as well as heraldic devices and the coats-of-arms of Spain, the United States, California, and San Diego.

Juan Sánchez Cotán (Spanish, 1560 – 1627), “Still Life with Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber” (1602), 69x84cm, The San Diego Museum of Art.
Still-life painting was virtually nonexistent in European art before the 1590s, and Juan Sánchez Cotán is among the first practitioners of the genre and this work is universally acclaimed as his masterpiece. Brilliantly executed, the painting is unflinching in its naturalism and simplicity. The mysterious serenity of the composition has led many to question the meaning or function of the image. For some, the work is an exercise in pure painting and a straightforward depiction of vegetables in a cold cellar. Others however, believe that the picture may have religious overtones, and that it should be understood as a celebration of God’s most humble creations. In support of the latter reading, it is often noted that Sánchez Cotán gave up his possessions and entered a Carthusian monastery in 1603.
Juan Manuel Hernández (Costa Rican, 1969), “Paisaje de Cachi” (2002), 80x100cm, The San Diego Museum of Art.
Hernández paints what he calls “the essence” of his native Costa Rica, currently the most biologically diverse area on the planet, in a deliberately historical and realistic style to evoke what may be lost if care is not taken for its fragile ecosystems.
Raphaelle Peale (American, 1774 – 1825), “Still-life with Peaches” (1816), 35x55cm, The San Diego Museum of Art.
Raised in Philadelphia, a center of American art, Peale preferred still life painting, even though he was an able portrait painter and portraits were more lucrative. Around 1812, Peale began to focus on still lifes, as his ill health interfered with his ability to interact with sitters. In fact, Peale was one of the first American painters to make the still life the focus of his oeuvre.

The San Diego Museum of Art
1450 El Prado
Balboa Park, San Diego, CA