There’s a new face on campus this semester — or, rather, a new, permanent display of an old one with a very familiar name. A portrait of Bishop George Berkeley that the university has owned since 1873 was recently given a long-term home, Doe Library, which is celebrating its centennial this year.
“This is a splendid image of our namesake, and we’re happy to have it in the library,” says University Librarian Tom Leonard, “not least because he’s shown holding a book.”
Bishop Berkeley — scholar, churchman, proponent of both social causes and higher education and a philosopher still read today — was chosen for the singular honor of giving the school his name by the trustees of the private College of California in 1866, two years before the University of California came into existence.
In 1873 Frederick Billings, the trustee who had made the initial suggestion, had a portrait of Berkeley created as a gift to the now-public university.
The painting, by John Weir, was shipped West by railroad and displayed in several buildings around the campus until it was put in storage at the Berkeley Art Museum in the 1990s. (It reappeared briefly, in 2011, for a campus visit by Berkeley family descendants.)
As plans were laid to celebrate the Doe Centennial this year, it was decided to return the massive painting to public display, this time in Doe. It now hangs in the Heyns Room of the library, sharing wall space with an even larger work, Emanuel Leutze’s “Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth.”
Both paintings are part of the permanent collection of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, which is lending them long-term to the library. “We don’t have room to permanently display either of these monumental works in our own facilities,” says BAM/PFA director Larry Rinder. “So we’re glad the library is there to be a surrogate gallery space for them. They’re meaningful artifacts of the university.”
Frequently Asked Questions about Bishop Berkeley (and his portrait)