Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento



This is the first and so far only entry of a larger blog I’m planning on Northern California. I have an intro for it mostly written which includes this paragraph:

“As of this morning I have 78 people subscribed to my blog. A small but dedicated number. What the vast majority of them have in common is they don’t live in Northern California. Many of them are from Ohio and Texas, or other travel bloggers from all over, who may have never visited here. And I realized one day about 2 years ago that I do stuff all the time which is worthy of writing about, it just doesn’t occur to me to do so because I live here and it’s ‘normal.’ Except it wouldn’t be normal to most of my readers and I would love to share it. So the concept was born.”

My original plan was to get at least a handful of entries together and release them a day at a time as I do when I travel. But this has been such a week, I thought maybe someone would appreciate something light and mindless to intake for a moment. So if that’s you, I hope you enjoy.

This visit occurred on Saturday, March 14, 2020, around 3pm in the afternoon. I had loose plans to take a friend here who was visiting that day from San Francisco. He decided to head back home earlier than I thought he would, so I suddenly had the afternoon free. I’d checked that morning and they were still open, despite schools and other things closing due to the coronavirus. I decided I would take advantage of that since it would likely be pretty empty. And it was. The next day, California closed all bars, etc., and the CDC put a ban on gatherings of 50 or more nationwide. I’m glad I made it in.”

Even in my original concept, the Crocker Art Museum would have been the first thing I released because it is one of my favorite things about Sacramento. If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know I love museums. I’ve been to many museums in the US, including NYC, LA, Chicago, Philadelphia, and, oddly, Richmond VA which has a surprisingly wonderful museum. And of course a bunch in Paris, London, Barcelona, Edinburgh, Rome, and many cities in Germany. The Crocker is easily in my top 5, maybe top 3. If you live in Sacramento and have never been, it’s absolutely worth the visit. And if you’re visiting here, it’s absolutely worth the visit. Well, that’s what I think anyway. I’ll give you a little taste here and you can see for yourself.

The Crocker Mansion

The first time I went to the Crocker was around 1995, and it was just what we now refer to as “the mansion.” Completed in 1872, it was built by Judge Edwin Crocker to be the family home and to display the significant art collection they had acquired while traveling in Europe from 1869-1871. It was the first museum west of the Mississippi. He didn’t get to enjoy it for very long as he died in 1875.

Th Crocker tripled in size in October of 2010 with the opening of this modern gallery, which is to the right of the original mansion. Notice the windows from the gallery on the top floor. We will be there later.

I am a member of the Crocker and typically visit 2-3 times a year, sometimes more. There are 5 exhibit areas which change several times a year. And, many pieces of the “permanent collection” rotate with some regularity, which I find both refreshing and annoying. A docent once told me the collection is so big that it’s stored in secret warehouses all over the city, and only a few employees actually know where they all are. At any given time, only about 15% of the collection is on display, which is why things are changing all the time. So while annoying when one of my favorites has disappeared, there’s always something new to see. Hence the multiple visits throughout the year.

The museum is at 3rd and O Streets, close to the Sacramento River. You can see the iconic Tower Bridge through the trees at the entrance.
Granted, this wasn’t prime time for a meal, but still, pretty empty.

My experience with food at museums is 50/50 at best, maybe even 60/40 with the lower end being really good. This is on the other side of that. The options here are not great. It’s not bad if you just need to stave off hunger a bit, but I wouldn’t plan a meal around it.

Funky, colorful hallway on my way to the mansion.

It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been here, I always start with the mansion, so I made my way over there. They did a nice job of connecting it to the expansion, and you can get there via stairs or an elevator.

Big, colorful stained glass flowers (although not exactly) on the walls of this interior staircase.
There’s even art in the staircases. One of my favorite pieces is in a staircase, but I will end with that.
The main gallery on the 2nd floor looks down into the ballroom.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into the ballroom was the big circular sofa was missing. It’s an interesting piece of furniture, can’t remember that I’ve seen anything like it anywhere else although I probably have. It shows up later, which I was glad about. But it used to be right in the middle of the ballroom.

A man sitting on the steps of a church with his head in his hand, looking very sad.
She Will Come Tomorrow by Edwin Deakin

Doesn’t that title break your heart? This painting was in the ballroom and I don’t remembering seeing it there or anywhere before, but found it striking. Edwin Deakin is one of several artists prominently displayed at the Crocker, which claims to have the most extensive collection of Californian artists in the world. Deakin was born in England in 1823, but moved to San Francisco in 1870. This painting is inspired by a scene from a Dickens novel and set in Westminster Abbey. Deakin painted a slew of work inspired by a 6 week trip to London in 1888.

This is the entrance hall of the mansion, but since the modern building opened you can only get there from the inside.

The top of the stairs, with the main gallery in the background.
The right side of this painting shows the virtuous miners, reading the bible, washing clothes, writing letters home. The left side depicts morally corrupt miners, gambling, racing horses, and squandering their gold.
Sunday Morning in the Mines, by Charles Christian Nahl, 1872

This painting is huge and, with its brother on the opposite wall, commands the landing of the staircase with one on each side. Both are by Charles Christian Nahl, who is my favorite artist in this museum. His ability to paint people, especially facial expressions, and his use of color are extraordinary.

The museum’s write-up about the above piece.

I take photos of these descriptions of the piece All The Time when I’m blogging art, they just never make it to the blog itself. It’s the only way I can remember everything and when I’m done with that entry of the blog I delete them. But I decided to include one for this museum because it demonstrates one of the things about this museum that I really like. Notice the last section: “LOOK FOR: Miners tools and a gold pan on the painting’s original frame.” Many of the pieces in the museum have this feature, pointing out something fun or interesting that you might have easily missed. Sometimes all I do is read the title and then jump to that section!

Depicts Mexicans living in California enjoying a fiesta. A couple in the center is dancing the Fandango, with cattle being round up for branding in the background.
The Fandango, by Charles Christian Nahl, 1873

This is on the opposite wall. “LOOK FOR: a boy lassoing a dog in emulation of the vaqueros lassoing cattle.” Both of these pieces have been in this staircase since at least my first visit in 1995.

Large gallery of mostly very large paintings along the perimeter, with the middle open to looking down into the ballroom over a mahogany rail.
Central gallery

This is the central gallery on the 2nd floor of the mansion. It is encircled by a hallway gallery on three sides.

Pieta by an unknown Portuguese artist, 16th century.

This pieta is interesting to me because it’s made of wood. “LOOK FOR: The Virgin’s knee bowed under the weight of her son Christ.”

A man sitting in a very colorful chair, talking to a woman in a fine dress of red and black. A tiger rug on top of a Persian rug.
In the Artist’s Studio, Edouard-Antoine Marsal, French, 1889

There is so much going on here. And I love the colors.

Two young women comfortably dressed lounging in a love seat, one playing an instrument and the other lying next to her cozily.
A Flute Player and a Listener, Giovanni Boldini, Italian, 1875

And even more going on here. Boldini was a colleague of Degas and Whistler in Paris.

I don’t typically spend a lot of time in the mansion; most of my favorite things are in the new building. And, with the exception of a special exhibit space in the east wing (which on this day was pottery I didn’t care about), the pieces in the mansion don’t change much. Mostly I do a quick walk through to make sure that’s true, which is what I did this day before heading back over to the main building.

A total of 11 paintings on this wall. all Charles Christian Nahl
Everything on this wall is by Charles Christian Nahl

This is my favorite wall in my favorite room in the museum, which I believe is also the biggest gallery in the complex. All of these paintings are by Charles Christian Nahl, same artist as the two I started with at the top of the mansion stairs. He was born in Germany in 1818. The Gold Rush lured him to Northern California around 1847, living first in Nevada City, then Rough & Ready, and then Sacramento before finally settling in San Francisco in 1852. He lived there until he died in 1878. I love his work a great deal – and apparently so does the Crocker to give him the most prominent display in the museum – but decided not to bore you with closeups of each.

An Arabian girl riding a white horse, being chased by an Arabian man on a brown horse.
The Love Chase, Charles Christian Nahl, 1869

Still, a couple of other examples won’t kill you. I picked this one because it’s a great representation of his ability to paint facial expressions – in this case even of the horse! – and of course it highlights his use of color and lighting which I really love. This is depicting an old Arabian custom, where a sheik provides his best horse to his daughter and a lesser horse to her suitor. If she’s interested, she’ll intentionally let herself be caught.

A Native American family - man, woman, 2 children, and maybe grandmother - warmly lit by a bright campfire at night, with a bright moon piercing clouds in the background, shining on the ocean.
The Indian Camp, Charles Christian Nahl, 1874

This is one of those paintings that is part of the permanent collection, but was rotated out a year or two ago, and I was very disappointed about that. I was able to find an image of it on the internet to share here. I wish they would bring it back. Everything about it is stunning: colors, especially the lighting of the moon on the water and that contrast with the fire scene, the facial expressions, and just the subject – you don’t see a lot of positive Native American images from that time period.

This is what the rest of that room looks like.

And there’s my circular sofa! I’m not sure which is weirder – how quickly I noticed it was missing out of the ballroom, or how happy I was to see it here. It actually makes more sense in this room so I think it was a good move. Notice the two behemoth wood pieces on either side.

Cabinet. Seriously.

This was made for someone’s dining room in a Menlo Park house, like 1877. Seriously more than a cabinet.

A metal sculpture, looking like a concaved large machine saw due to the teeth around the edges. There are 3 sections to the surface, each with imperfections polished to a great shine.

I was going to say “one of my favorite pieces in this museum” but I believe I will be saying that a lot so I won’t or it will loose it’s effect! But seriously, this is one of the more trippy pieces, and for which the phrase “the photo doesn’t do it justice” was made. I tried to use video instead but that didn’t work either. Cuz here’s the deal: this is in 3D. While it’s concave but otherwise perfectly smooth, those lines that you see which separate it into 3 planes somehow create ridges that make the 2 sections on the side appear higher, with the middle section sunken. But it’s not. So you’ll just have to trust me that it’s a trip πŸ™‚

A very large sculpture of a cowboy on a horse lassoing a bull. Each figure probably 7 feet long. The horse is bucking, standing on it's front legs. The bull is being pulled onto its hind legs by the rope. So together they form wide V.

I first saw this piece in 1995 when it was in the ballroom of the mansion. The thing I was struck by then I still find striking today: how does it not topple over? It’s ceramic and just looks so heavy. And yes, the eyes of that bull are red lights.

5 teenagers carrying the body of a 6th

The first thing you need to know about this piece is that it is a recreation of Caravaggio’s Deposizione below, a famous rendering of the body of Christ. The second thing you need to know about this is it that medium is glitter. This photo doesn’t capture how it shimmers and up close it’s breathtaking as you attempt to understand how much work that took.

Laying Christ in the tomb.

Probably the creepiest piece in the museum, this is called “All Nations Have Their Moments of Foolishness” from 2006. (Although I have to say, given where we are in 2020, this piece hasn’t aged well…) There are 344 separate tiles here, positioned in a mosaic to resemble George W Bush. Seen from a distance, you just think “wow, that’s cool looking.” Up close it’s truly disturbing.

Individual tiles include images of skulls, dominoes, brick fences, brains, feet.

Above and below are closeups around the eyes, which provide a glimpse of the details of each tile.

Individual tiles include images of skulls, dominoes, brick fences, brains, feet.
Catalina, Nocturnal. Painter is Granville Redmond. I love the moonlight on the water.
A stoneware  statue of a young girl, maybe 10, wearing a dress. She has hair, pulled back by a barrette to one side. She is standing in a corner holding a doughnut with a look of terror on her face. The walls behind her are papered in flowers. The entire thing is done essentially in varying shades of peach, muted reds and orange, with a tiny big of pale green in her dress connecting the flowers in the print.
Wall Flower

The over-the-top peachiness of this has always creeped me out for some reason, yet I find it difficult to look away. LOOK FOR: A subtle commentary on the comfort that food offers, as well as the guilt that goes with it.

Here we go. Those of you who have been following me for awhile know my love-to-hate relationship with modern art. This could very well be one of those times. A tower of wash cloths? Seriously?

Here’s the deal: it’s ceramic.

A 3 layer house of cards on top of two books.

Another delicate piece in ceramic.

A yellow-orange roll of toilet paper against a green wall sitting on a red surface.

Normally this is the kind of art I would make fun of yet, on March 14 when I took this, it seemed fitting for the times.

Called Juijuiygi, acrylic on 120 triangular canvases, each individually stretched and painted by hand, creating a kaleidoscope when put together as a single piece. The closeup below provides some detail as to how the tiles are arranged.

Another by Granville Redmond: Untitled (Moonlight Marsh Scene)

Both below and above are more Granville Redmond, focused on California poppies.

A gallery with wooden floor and a wall of windows on the far end looking out over O Street.

At the beginning of this blog I pointed out the windows above the entrance. This is the gallery on the other side.

A nice little view of downtown. My car is the 2nd white one from the right but you can’t see it because it’s essentially hidden by the 3rd one!

Boston Cremes by Wayne Thiebaud

Wayne Thiebaud is one of the more famous local artists. Educated at both San Jose and Sacramento State Universities, he was later on the faculty of UC Davis art department which I believe is where he retired from. He turns 100 on November 15, 2020.

A shirtless man, mid-20s maybe, with his shirt tied around his shorts. His left arm is raised still holding the bow he just released an arrow from, his right arm pulled back in a crook from the release. The bottom tip of the arrow is seen at the top of the painting. He's standing on a hill, with a grassy valley and a behind him on the left and a river flowing through trees on the right.

There’s something simple and elegant about this which I really like. It’s a huge painting on the landing of an internal staircase going from the 3rd to 2nd floor.

And that is my view of the Crocker. I just scratched the surface here so if you’re ever in the neighborhood it is absolutely worth a visit.

On this day I’d taken my friend to South for lunch, a very popular restaurant that focuses on, well, southern cooking. I had the fried chicken which is practically a spiritual experience. Several weeks before, I’d tried Fixins, a new soul food restaurant in roughly the same part of town. Having had very good friend chicken there, I said to the friend I was with then: now I have to go back to to South to see which is better.

So on that Saturday, March 14, I went to Fixins for dinner so I could do a reliable taste test of fried chicken South won. But Fixins has buttermilk pie. So there.

I’m thinking takeout may be necessary this weekend.

I hope whatever you’re doing you’re healthy, safe, and living your truth, whatever that looks like for you.

7 thoughts on “Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento”

  1. Jeff F says:

    Read this post with my SO as a COVID date night! LIKE

    1. Steve Haas says:

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Debbie Colbath says:

    Thank you…really enjoyed this!

    1. Steve Haas says:

      You’re welcome! Glad you liked it. And of course you know you are one of those from Texas I was thinking of when I wrote that 😎

  3. Karen Keene says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I love to go to museums on Sunday afternoons, and after this week it was truly a pleasure to enjoy your tour.

    1. Steve Haas says:

      Glad you enjoyed it!

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