Today’s post comes from Simone Levine, Class of 2013 and Art Center Student Docent.
This fall the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is proudly hosting one of the first and finest master drawings collections in the United States. A Pioneering Collection: Master Drawings from the Crocker Art Museum features highlights from hundreds of drawings purchased by the Crockers in the late-nineteenth century, primarily during the time Edwin Bryant Crocker and his family spent in Europe from 1869-1871. This collection of more than 1,300 drawings not only includes some of the finest Italian, French, and German prints on the European market during the nineteenth century, but also was the first collection of master drawings in the Western United States.
Yet, what is most impressive about the collection is the story collectors themselves, whose passion for art manifested in their collection and their dreams of its public exhibition. Edwin Bryant Crocker was born a son of a merchant in Jamesville, NY in 1818. After earning a degree in civil engineering from Rensselaer Institute in Troy, NY, he studied law in South Bend, Indiana. After his second marriage, he moved with his wife, Margaret Eleanor Rhodes Crocker, to Sacramento, California in August, 1852. He was appointed a State Supreme Court Justice in 1861, but he stepped down from his appointment three years later to serve as legal counsel for the Central Pacific Railroad Company, where he made his fortune.
Although Edwin did not come from a wealthy family, his educational and professional background best-justify his interest in art patronage in which he invested his fortune. Crocker began collecting from California artists in the 1860’s, and in 1868 he began plans for a mansion in Sacramento that included an art gallery. After suffering a stroke in 1869, he left for Europe one month later with his family. The Crockers stayed in Dresden, the seat of the Saxon court and center for art dealing and auction, and Edwin purchased over 1,000 drawings and 700 paintings over his two years in Europe. Upon his return to Sacramento, Edwin continued the execution of his plans for his mansion and its art gallery, which he intended to open to the public. After his death two years later, his wife Margaret carried our Edwin’s vision for the public administration of their private gallery. Margaret became one of the founding members of the California Museum Association, whose mission was to nurture that arts & sciences in Northern California, beginning with the administration of the Crocker collection. With the support of the California Museum Association, Margaret expanded the influence of the Crocker collection through her establishment of the Sacramento School of Design. Its students used the Crocker collection as their models and studied under the Crocker gallery’s curator, William F. Jackson. Before Margaret moving away from Sacramento in 1891, Margaret presented the “Crocker Art Gallery” and its collection to the City of Sacramento and its Museum Association to be administered to the public. Edwin’s mansion is now home to what has become the Crocker Art Museum, who continues fulfill Edwin’s vision of the public administration of his collection by keeping his doors open to the public.